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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Game 29 - Stoke City

So it's one of those make or break times again. A series of games over the next 5 weeks, all at home, against four of the other 5 teams currently in the top 6. These games will not decide our season, there's another 14 matches elsewhere that will do that, but it'll tell us, Pards and the players what exactly can be expected come May 4th.
The pity of it all is that recently we have not been so hot when it comes to make-or-break games. Last season, in a spot of trouble, but a home game against Watford was going to set us right with 3 easy points. Well, no not exactly, a 0-0 draw. And later on pressure games against Sheff. Uoo, twice, Middlesbrough, Watford and the biggest being away at Blackburn, with none of them being won. OK, there was the Hamsters game and an impressive 4-0 scoreline but the 2-2 draw at Anfield when the pressure was off perhaps said it all.
But despite our recent form, only 1 win in 9 games and with 6 draws in the last 8 games, everyone's been pretty upbeat about tonight. Kelly Youga tells us that 'Stoke are a very physical side, but if we can keep the ball down and play football, then we can beat them', while Bougherra is meanwhile forecasting a bit of a 'surge'. However, the calm voice of experience, Killer, cuts through it all and predicts a 1-1 stalemate and at the same time warns us all about the danger of our ex-trialist Ricardo Fuller....
And tonight is not going to be easy. Unbeaten for 12 League games going back to their defeat on November 10th at home to Sheff. U, they've been beaten just 5 times this season, fewer than anybody else. And that defeat against Sheffield was the end of a sticky patch that saw them lose 3 out of 4 games. And although we have gained more points away from home than they have, we have to remember that they've only lost 2 out of their 14 away games, at Southampton and Bristol City, the best record in the fizzies.
And they score plenty of goals, 46 in the fizzies, second only to West Brom although they do have a few off-days. For while we may score less (41), we do usually score and while have they have failed to score 6 times, we, despite our bad shooting, have only failed in 3 games to find the back of the net.
But to emphasize that the policy of Tony Pulis is to attack, you only have to look at the record of his defence with only 6 clean sheets, among the worst in the Division, and with 35 goals conceded, more than 10 other teams..
So it therefore follows that Stoke have now gotten the mentality that losing a goal doesn't affect them in the slightest. In fact they expect to concede and they have the best record in the fizzies for getting points after the other lot have scored first, having got 17 of their 47 points after going behind.
So what to do? Well, with Stoke scoring more goals in the first 10 minutes than any other 10 minute spell, its obviously important for Pards to wake everybody up before the start, no early daydreaming from anyone. And it'll be a repeat of our last game at Watford with an early bombardment. And its worth noting that they've scored three goals at all of Barnsley, Blackpool, Sheffield Utd, Scunthorpe and Palarse and on only two occasions have they failed to score away from home, the defeat at Bristol and a 0-0 at Burnley where Andy Gray played the whole 90 minutes.
And Stoke have also come into some money and have been the biggest spenders in the Championship so far this month, with Ryan Shawcross, Danny Pugh and Leon Cort joining permanently for a combined fee of just under £3million, and Andy Griffin returning for £300,000.
As for their attack, the danger men are obviously number 10 Ricardo Fuller (12 goals), number 9 Richard Cresswell (8), and number 7 Liam Lawrence (8), and in those three they've got forwards that obviously know where the goal is and there's also Ryan Shawcross and defender Leon Cort with 6 apiece.

As for the history, in 28 League games at the Valley, its 16 wins, 7 defeats and 5 draws.

As for the Addicks, the main question for Pardew is whether or not Andy Gray will start. Although always eager to keep an unchanged eleven, with the good work recently put in by Luke Varney, it'll be no surprise to see Chris Iwelumo step down once again and this time see Gray take his place alongside Varney.

So its looks odds on to be:

Weaver; Moutaouakil, McCarthy, Bougherra, Youga; Sam, Holland, Zheng, Ambrose; Gray, Varney.
Subs: Randolph, Fortune, Semedo, Iwelumo, Dickson.

And the Prediction. After a run of 5 1-1 draws in our last 8 games, Killer and newyorkaddick both see a repeat with another 1-1, while pedro45 forecasts a 2-0 home win. So with their attack, in particular Fuller, odds-on to score, but with a defence likely to concede, we'll have to score twice to win, so its a 2-1 win for the Addicks, with Gray notching his first goal....

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