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Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Fixtures Favour Stoke City's Premier League Survival


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According to most of the bookies the three promoted teams from last season are now the deemed to be the favourites to face the drop back into the Championship at the end of the current campaign.  It’s certainly not difficult to see why they have arrived at this conclusion. 

Although their remaining fixtures offer a degree of hope, West Bromwich Albion are in danger of losing touch with those above them and have also started conceding goals at a fairly alarming rate that isn’t doing their goal difference any favours.  The lack of financial backing to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window could ultimately prove to be the club’s undoing this season, with Tony Mowbray’s squad looking both suspect at the back and lacking a real cutting-edge going forward.

Hull City are a team in freefall, with their last Premier League victory being back on 06 December when two late goals enabled them to see off Middlesbrough 2:1.  Their last top-flight win prior to that was way back on 25 October, when they came away from the Hawthorns as 3:0 victors.  

The January signing of Jimmy Bullard was an expensive gamble that already looks as if it might have backfired.  The midfielder’s injury absence for the remainder of the campaign is bad enough, but the fact that the Tigers signed a 30-year-old player who has now suffered a second major injury on a lucrative four-and-a-half-year deal could really come back to haunt the club should they lose their Premier League status this term (there are unlikely to be many clubs prepared to take him off their hands on a similar contract now). 

They have also been struggling for goals and could have done with more than the addition of Manchester United’s Angolan striker Manucho in January, particularly given the departures of Marlon King and Dean Windass.  Hull’s remaining fixtures, like those of the Baggies, do give some cause for optimism, but whether they can regain the early season form that saw them rubbing shoulders with the “Big Four” at the top of the table looks increasingly doubtful.

That brings us to Stoke City.  The boys from the Britannia Stadium are also currently struggling for wins, with the team having mustered just one victory (a 1:0 win over Manchester City on 31 January) since they saw off West Brom 1:0 back on 22 November. 

However, not only has Tony Pulis put together a squad that doesn’t throw in the proverbial (as Aston Villa recently found to their cost), but they are a very solid outfit on home turf.  To date they have lost just three times at the Britannia this term, with defeats to Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United being no disgrace for a newly promoted team.  With Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic still to visit, Stoke look to have every chance of securing sufficient points to steer clear of the drop-zone.  Although their away form has been dire (just four draws to show from 14 away games to date), they might also fancy their chances of picking up a few points on the road given that they still have to visit those they came up with last season.

There will undoubtedly be a few twists and turns over the coming weeks, but Stoke could be the team who prove the bookies wrong and avoid the drop.

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Cody Strunk

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