Eye On The Opposition: Stoke City vs Crystal Palace (11/2/2017)

Written by Robert Sutherland

Palace visit the Potters desperate for a win. Here's Jack Pierce...

“Shall we go to Stoke?” asked my cousin.

“Yeah, why not?” I text back.

Well, let me tell you why I shouldn’t be going.

Another day on the bastard trains, Palace being AWFUL and the risk of pneumonia given the arctic temperatures forecast in Staffordshire on Saturday afternoon.

Still, I’m excited. What the hell is wrong with me… and the other 2000 Palace fans heading to The Brita… Bet365 Stadium???

For those present last Saturday and going this weekend, surely it can’t get worse. Unless Jon Walters puts Stoke 5-0 up with just 36 minutes on the clock, we can’t reach the lows of the last five minutes of the first half against Sunderland, can we?

Surely not.

Well, we head to Staffordshire in hope and given our fairly decent record against Mark Hughes’ side, we could even come away with smiles on our faces and points in our pockets.

In our seven Premier League fixtures against Stoke, we’ve won five, drawn one and lost just once, and that was just after coming up. I’m not normally one for looking at the past for hope but right now, I’ll look anywhere and the image of Chungy spinning away having scored the goal of his life is as good a place to start as any.

Stoke currently sit 11th; about where you might have anticipated them hovering at the start of the season. It’s been a fair to middling sort of season for the club thus far but without involvement in either cup competition proceeding beyond the first week in January and their place in the top flight looking pretty secure already, what does the rest of the season have in store for Stoke fans?

First of all, securing their place for next season will be paramount. Realistically, another three or four wins from their remaining 14 games will most likely be enough and with us, Middlesbrough and Hull all to visit, supporters will be hopeful that those wins may be picked up in front of the faithful. If they don’t take points on offer in those games, there is a chance they will have to start looking over their shoulder as the season end approaches but it does look unlikely.

With little to play for, and it sounds stupid with over a third of the season to go, Hughes can look to the future. Be a little more flexible with his formations and style, perhaps, or offer opportunities to youngsters and those who haven’t had as much time in the first team as perhaps they’d have hoped.
One man who will be hoping for some time on the pitch and grasp the lifeline thrown to him by Stoke is Saido Berahino. The striker, who for whatever reasons, has lacked game time for pretty much two seasons now has arrived at Stoke from The Hawthorns and he, and his new employers, will be hoping he can return to the sort of form that saw him become one of the most exciting youngsters in the Premier League at the start of the 2014/15 season. His ‘value’ skyrocketed to over £20 million and Spurs were very keen to add him to their ranks. That deal didn’t happen and seemed to be the start of Berahino’s recent decline.

Whether he or his then club are to blame for his lack of appearances doesn’t really matter now, this transfer is a fresh start and the rest of this season may provide the perfect opportunity for him to play games, adapt to the pace of the league again and get him ready to hit the ground running at the start of next season.

Saturday’s fixture is the sort that Palace need to take points from if top flight status is to be retained. With a quick glance at other fixtures, our nearest rivals could take a leap away from the bottom three with a win this weekend leaving our position looking even more perilous.

A Palace win, however, puts the pressure on Swansea and Leicester, who we’d go above with three points, before they meet on Sunday in a fixture that I care about far more than I should do.