Writer: Lloyd Reddin
Date:Saturday December 1 2012
1st December 2012
Stoke City will make the short trip down the M6 to face this seasons surprise package, high flying West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
The Baggies have made a flying start to the season and find themselves sitting in the lofty heights of 4th place in the Premier League. Steve Clarke`s men have been in scintillating form, especially at home, where they have made The Hawthorns a fortress. Despite their run of 4 consecutive league wins coming to a sudden halt at the hands of Swansea on Wednesday night, West Brom will prove a very stern test for their visitors.
Stoke will be buoyed by two home wins inside 5 days over Fulham and Newcastle, which extended their own unbeaten run to 4 games. The Potters are have climbed to 9th in the premier league table and will be hoping to continue their good form against a side that they have only lost once to in the last 11 league meetings.
It is a meeting of two of the premier league`s in-form sides and promises to be an entertaining encounter. With Stoke`s solid defence and West Brom`s strong home form; the smart money would be on the draw but this is a game that could go either way.
Tony Pulis on Stoke`s recent run of good form - "The big thing is, we should never take our eye off the ball, We are privileged to play in one of the greatest leagues in the world, if not the greatest, and to maintain that you have to keep your feet on the ground.
"Look at how many big teams are in the Championship and ask yourself why. It`s because they have been complacent."
Peter Odemwingie on the challenge of facing Stoke City - "It`s a totally different type of football we`ll face on Saturday, It will be more physical, more long ball - but we have to play our own game that we`ve been successful with so far"
"I think Stoke have improved during my time in England. They have reached an FA Cup Final and played in the Europa League. They are a difficult side to play against for every Premier League team."
Zoltan Gera should be fit for West Brom after a groin problem kept him out of Wednesday`s defeat by Swansea. Goalkeeper Ben Foster underwent surgery on his groin on Tuesday so he is a long term absentee.
Steve Clarke will choose between Shane Long and Romalu Lukaku to play up front alongside Peter Odemwingie.
Long is expected to keep Lukaku out of the side once again and is in a rich vein of form. He has come into his own under Steve Clarke and has been voted the clubs player of the month by the supporters in the build up too this clash.
His pace and movement are combined with deadly finishing and he could cause Stoke problems if he is not marshalled correctly. Don`t be surprised to see him on the score sheet come Saturday afternoon.
Peter Crouch is set to miss out after having 3 teeth knocked out during the game against Newcastle on Wednesday night. Kenwyne Jones will deputise in the lone striker role.
Michael Kightly could come in for the out of form Matty Etherington, however goal hero Cameron Jerome will have to settle for a place on the substitutes bench where he is expected to be joined by the returning Michael Owen. Andy Wilkinson is also back in contention but Ryan Shotton will continue at Right Back after two impressive displays.
The midfield man has simply been a revelation since he arrived from Blackburn Rovers in the summer. He is fast becoming a fans favourite with his powerful displays in the heart of the Stoke side. He the way he breaks up play and keeps possession of the ball has made him a key element in the way Stoke play.
By far Stoke`s signing of the season and he will have a very important role to play if his team are too come away with any points from the Hawthorns.
Kevin Friend will take charge of the clash at the hawthorns and has show 22 yellow cards in his 9 premier league games this season, however he has only shown one red. It will be the second time Friend has refereed Stoke this season having taken charge of their first game of the season against Reading, he hasn`t yet taken charge of West Bromwich Albion. He could be in for a quiet afternoon as there have been just 8 yellow cards shown in the 6 PL meetings between WBA & Stoke & 3 of the games, have had no cards at all.
For me this has score draw written all over it. West Brom are very consistent at home and always create chances but they do not look without problems at the back. I think Stoke will take advantage of this using their renowned set-pieces, however i do think it will be very tough for even Stoke`s mean defence to keep WBA at bay. I`m going for 1 - 1, Huth and Long with the goals. I hope i`m wrong and The Potters come out on top.
Aston Villa (A)
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Date:Saturday December 1 2012
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