Hughes' first game is trip to Anfield

Posted by James Whittaker

Paul Thomas/Getty ImagesMark Hughes: Back in the business

It's that time again; that day in June that means we are one step closer to the season resuming. It's fixtures day. Once the elation passes, of course, the fans realise that the players aren't even back for training yet, but that won't stop them getting excited as they plan their travels for the season ahead.

I've seen rumours of who Stoke will be playing first flying around for weeks but none of them were right (they never are) and we now know that Mark Hughes' first match as manager of the Potters is a trip to Anfield to face what looks increasingly like a Luis Suarez-less Liverpool.

The first half a dozen fixtures or so will be crucial, not just because there is a new manager, more that Hughes typically starts slowly when he has taken over at a new club, so one almost hopes that he gets those harder fixtures out of the way as he continues to bed in.

The fixture gods haven't done too badly in that respect as Stoke face Liverpool (a), Crystal Palace (h), West Ham (a), Man City (h), Arsenal (a) and Norwich (h). The games against Palace, Norwich and West Ham give Hughes a good opportunity to buck the trend and get some early points on the board and if not then he'll at least have got two difficult away fixtures out of the way against Liverpool and Arsenal, with the visit of his old side Man City in between.

Another favourite time in the football calendar is that mad Christmas bonanza which will unfortunately see the Potters having to travel to Newcastle on Boxing Day (On-Tyne not Under-Lyme sadly) and down to north London to play Spurs just two days later. It's back to the Brit though for the New Year with a Merseyside double whammy for the first two fixtures of 2014.

Games we're hoping won't be significant will be those at the tail end of the season where, with a bit of luck, the club will be looking up instead of down; those fixtures don't look too bad with winnable games against Newcastle, Cardiff, Fulham and our good friends West Brom. By then it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Joe Kinnear will have named himself in goal for Newcastle and that coupled with a trip to (we always beat) West Brom should see Stoke right if they find themselves in need of some late points.

All in all, it's not too bad for Hughes' first season - I really hope he does get off to a flying start, but fans shouldn't get too disheartened if that doesn't happen with October and November offering plenty of opportunity to get things back on track if needed.

This Stoke fan is optimistic though and I'm predicting ELEVEN points from August and September, which will set the side up nicely to push on and in doing so prove a good number of doubters wrong.

That said, it’s best not to make any plans just yet as the television companies are yet to pick and choose exactly which Saturdays they will be ruining for the fans. But as long as Stoke start appearing further up the running order on Match of the Day, in the words of our previous leader, we'll take that on the chin.

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