Following their late 2-1 win against Aston Villa, Stoke City are back in action this Saturday against another team below them in the table: Hull City. After taking 7 points from their last 3 matches (including back-to-back wins over fellow bottom-table teams Aston Villa and QPR) Hull City have a little breathing room in their battle against relegation. Stoke and Hull drew 1-1 at the KC Stadium in their first match this season, with Ryan Shawcross scoring late for the Potters, after Nikica Jelavić opened the scoring for the Tigers.
For the Potters, the goal for the remainder of the season is to surpass last season’s record Premier League finish. Winning matches like the one this Saturday against Hull is vitally important. Here are my Three Keys to the match for Stoke:
1. Limit Nikica Jelavić:
Jelavić is clearly the best option for the Tigers around the net, as Stoke learned all too well in the initial encounter between these two in August. Jelavić has a nose for the ball and scored his goal against Stoke in August off of a rebound.
The Croatian striker is in good form as well, with goals in his last two matches, and 3 goals in his 5 Premier League appearances since the start of the New Year. The Potters have to know where Jelavić is on the pitch at all times, and make sure to limit any opportunities he has around the net.
2. Shore Up the Back Line:
Stoke City’s back line has been ravaged by injury this season, and the injury bug appears as though it will once again have an effect on the Potters’ lineup for Saturday. Captain Ryan Shawcross will once again sit out in an effort to avoid surgery for an inflamed disc in his back.
It appears that for the second consecutive week Marc Wilson and Phillip Wollscheid will play at centre back for the Potters. The pair have begun to develop some chemistry and performed admirably in the second half last weekend against Aston Villa.
On the wings, both Erik Pieters and Phil Bardsley have been banged up recently, but look like they’ll be able to start on Saturday. There’s no doubt that the back four struggled against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, but they rebounded nicely against Villa. More performances like last weekend and there’s a good chance Stoke City could finish strong.
3. Don’t Overestimate Hull City:
Stoke City have a nasty habit of playing well against teams above them or surrounding them in the table, yet playing poorly against teams sitting below them. Last week against Aston Villa appeared as though it would be a prime example of this when Scott Sinclair headed in a cross to put Villa 1-0 up.
However the Potters battled back, and a late penalty expertly taken by Victor Moses gave Stoke the full 3 points. If Stoke City wish to finish better than they did last season, it is crucial that they take care of business in matches like the one against Hull. Hull is deserving of their spot in the bottom of the table, but the Tigers are certainly dangerous enough to trouble the Potters on Saturday.
Stoke City must come out with full effort and look to take the game to a Hull team that is playing well recently. If the Potters open the match by playing attacking football, there’s no reason they shouldn’t come away with 3 points.