Smashing the Potters!

Posted by Chris Rann

Saints will play out their Premier League season in an odd situation. Depending how events unfold on Sunday, they could finish as high as 10th or as low as 17th. The opponents are Stoke City, and their chairman Peter Coates is under no illusion that this is a 'nothing' end of season game.

Effectively the difference between victory or defeat stands at around £5 million for both clubs, who are in almost identical boats. Hopefully (he says with an air of feint optimism) this will be filtered down to the players of both clubs and we will be in for a cracking last day. Sadly, that is often not the case and last day games where neither club can win anything or go down turn out to be drab affairs, but surely professional pride would prompt professional players to plump for peak prominence?

Saints should also have revenge on their mind. In what was a thrilling reverse fixture at the Brittania Stadium, Cameron Jerome's last minute wonder strike robbed Saints of a much needed victory and the match was added to the long list entitled 'Should have won' for Saints this season.

So how do Saints beat Stoke City?

1. Firstly, keep the ball on the ground. I could pander to the stereotypes here and suggest that Stoke City like the ball in the air, but that isn't my point. They are undoubtedly strong at defending an aerial threat and Saints aren't great at producing from it. Keep the ball down and Saints will keep it more often. Hitting high balls into the box will be wasteful and the Stoke defence will lap it up.

2. Stay Calm. Stoke are statistically the dirtiest team in the Premier League. Let them get on with it and don't rise to it. If they are reduced to 10 men. Great. Don't even the scores looking for revenge. That's their game, West Brom aside, it isn't ours.

3. Stay tight to Jon Walters. Stoke play with width and Walters is their main outlet away from home (five goals and one assist, more than twice anyone else in their squad). They play a very similar style to West Ham who Saints struggled against twice this season. Southampton need to learn those lessons and not allow them to play crosses into the box.

4. Following on from point three. Just as West Ham have the tall Andy Carroll at the point of their attack, Stoke City have the even taller Peter Crouch. As an ex-player that makes Crouch a double the threat, and Saints fans, as much as anyone, know who good he is with the ball at his feet. Jos Hooiveld needs to be all over Crouch, but not so much that he gives penalties away...

5. Don't let them get in front. Stoke have a good record at protecting a lead, Saints will need to be wary of the opening exchanges and not have another West Brom situation.

6. Have faith in yourselves. For me you only have to look at Saints squad to see that on paper they shouldn't be finishing below Stoke, West Ham, Aston Villa and Sunderland. Biased? Of course, but were it not for Saints poor opening 10 games I believe they would be fighting for 8th-10th rather than 10th-17th. Time to put that theory into practice and finish as high as possible. If Nigel Adkins can pull off a favour at West Ham, and Saints get the win, the other fixtures and our goal difference would put us in the driving seat for 10th.

Whatever happens Saints can now look forward to a MoPo pre-season and transfer session. Next season could be another roller coaster entirely.

Keep the faith.

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