Reasons for optimism?

Posted by James Whittaker

Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesStoke's contest at Fulham on Saturday could see former FC Dallas man Brek Shea make his debut with the Potters.

Stoke head down to Fulham for a lunch time kickoff in a bid to improve their dismal away record of one win in 22 games.

The Potters go into the game relatively buoyed in what many are labelling as a boring mid-table clash, with neither side in any real danger of breaching the European slots or crashing the ongoing relegation party. The team will hopefully be well rested following their various trips around the world and it's always good to go into these breaks on the back of a good result, if not performance.

- Walters: Away record must improve

The fans and players alike will be itching to get back to the football pitch, and with the prospect of seeing Marc Wilson and Brek Shea feature, they will have renewed optimism that Stoke can come away with all three points against their stuttering West London opponents.

Wilson will be a welcome return but unlike some, I won't be putting unreasonable expectations on his shoulders. While he has done well at left back and indeed is the best we have there, that his return has so much significance is more to do with the failings to buy in that position and not the players' successes there.

Shea's involvement, on the other hand, is genuinely exciting. I'm not sure just how fit Shea is but he has not only come through a couple of friendlies unscathed, he has also impressed, scoring a header from a corner to boot. The management team has said that they see his place in the team on the left side of midfield and while he is likely to make the bench at best on Saturday, this poses an obvious question about Matthew Etherington's future, ironically as he seems to have found some form in recent weeks.

That said, given the fact that the 'Adam in the hole' experiment appears to be over and Pulis' penchant for ramming square pegs into round holes, it's not inconceivable to suggest that Shea could even get a chance behind the striker with Etherington keeping his berth over on the left. Having two exciting players is hardly a bad problem to have though, and it's up to Pulis to ensure not only that the players in question remain motivated, but also that Shea is not rushed into action given his long absence through injury.

As ever, the Potteries faithful will be holding their breath in anticipation of the team sheet. The choice of striker in any game is vital, but against Fulham, perhaps even more so given the presence of the imposing Brede Hangeland at the heart of their defence. In fact, Stoke have struggled with their direct game into any target man with him in close attendance so it might not be who is used on Saturday but rather how they are used, so a Plan B is imperative for the manager. I could make an obvious assumption as to the chances of Pulis' selection of striker or having a Plan B, but on this occasion I will bite my tongue and leave it up to the manager to surprise us all.

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