Can Swans offer much needed respite for Stoke?

Posted by James Whittaker

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesPeter Crouch and Stoke may have been left frustrated in last week's draw with Southampton, but opportunity abounds this weekend at Swansea.

Swansea are one of those sides who stick in my recent memory; the main reason for that is playing them last season was an ideal opportunity to put to bed memories of two hammerings in the weeks previous at the hands of Manchester United (3-0) and Chelsea (4-0)

While no-one at the time expected a result from either of those matches, the Chelsea game in particular was disappointing given it was at the Britannia and the side capitulated in a manner uncommon with the steely resolve one has come to expect over the years. It was the third game of a run that would see Stoke lose 10 of 13 and coincided with the reinstatement of the toothless Peter Crouch ahead of the in-form Kenwyne Jones who had turned the side's fortunes around in November and December.

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That run and that decision was key to a lot of fans turning on the previous manager and there is a quiet irony that it is Swansea again who Stoke come up against amid another dip of form and again counting on Crouch to deliver the goods. The circumstances this time, of course, are very different with a new manager at the helm and Crouch more than deserving his chance having impressed since being recalled these last few games.

Belief in the squad is high with Asmir Begovic, Stephen Ireland, Oussama Assaidi and Crouch all calling for patience while extolling the virtues of the new regime and what is trying to be achieved. Sadly, that optimism hasn't spread into all areas of the Britannia with some unwilling to let the manager get to double figures of games played before unreasonably venting their spleen so publically.

Swansea have their own problems, the most pressing of which is their own front line where recent acquisition Wilfried Bony struggles to find the form that persuaded Michael Laudrup to part with a club record 12 million pounds. Laudrup did the right thing in bringing in a recognised goal-scorer to take some of the burden off Michu's shoulders, but neither has hit it off in earnest and Stoke fans will be hoping that remains the case come Sunday. That Michu isn't even available for selection will be a huge boost and if it is Bony who gets the nod, then Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth will more than fancy their chances in a physical battle with a player who is out of form.

Our Welsh hosts also have the challenge of Europe to contend with this season and while their style of play dictates they shouldn't be as physically exhausted as the Potters were after their own travels in the Europa League, it's hardly ideal preparation.

I think the stage is set for a Stoke win which would give the club a huge boost and the kind of momentum that is vital to take into the upcoming games against some of the lesser lights in the league. While the boo boys would suggest otherwise, I think the side has been steadily improving, and despite having developed an unhealthy habit of throwing leads away of late, things aren't far off from coming together for the better.

Yes, performances have been hit and miss but that is to be expected for a side finding their way under a new manager and a new way of playing. Results have gone against Stoke for the most part but only one game has seen a deficit of more than one goal, the 3-1 loss away at the team sitting pretty at the top of the league. Such fine margins in defeat would suggest that tweaks and not wholesale changes are required to start turning those results back in Stoke's favour. I'd be concerned if the losses were 3-0 or 4-0 hammerings, let alone the indignation of a thumping dealt out to the likes of Norwich recently, but the reality is such morale sapping reverses simply haven't happened and nobody has dominated the side at any point this season.

When you look at the facts there really isn't much to be disheartened about: Mark Hughes' record so far is almost identical to that of his predecessor at the same point last season and no sane fan can suggest that the football hasn't moved on as a spectacle. A win at Swansea could see the Potters climb as many as five places up the table, and with the performances on the road this season coupled with the challenges Swansea have on and off the field in the run-up, I'd say that win is more than achievable.

Vis Unita Fortior


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