West Ham United can make sure of a top-six finish in the Premier League by claiming all three points away to Stoke City, who will determined to end the season on a high having gone six matches without victory.
For all of their controlled possession and neat style of play, Stoke are suffering at present due to a lack of intensity when they do not have the ball, as well as the absence of a quality centre forward.
Another mid-table finish is acceptable enough for a club of their standing, but a squad that has some players that would easily get into the starting line-ups of most top European sides has failed to live up to its potential, so boss Mark Hughes will be working hard over the summer to ensure his side can push on.
The defeat last weekend at Crystal Palace was symptomatic of the way things have gone over recent weeks, with cheap goals being conceded and a failure to make the most of their tidiness going forward. It also went some way to reinforcing the belief that back-up goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard is not cut out for the Premier League quite yet as he looked shaky again and was culpable for the game’s decisive goal. This is a tough match in which to turn things around, but if the Potters can play as well as they are capable of, they can match any side they come up against.
Although the scenes before the eventual kick-off took some of the shine away from events on the pitch, West Ham ended their 112-year stay at Upton Park on Tuesday in the perfect fashion, making full use of their strength from set-pieces and the big-game atmosphere created to deservedly get the better of Manchester United. Their indomitable energy did not cease for one minute, and the character shown after going behind showed a stubborn refusal to be beaten, so it was a memorable occasion for all concerned.
But there is still one more important encounter to attend to, and the focus will remain on beating Southampton and Liverpool to a place in the top six, while fifth place in far from out of their reach. Whatever happens it has been a marvellous first season in charge for Slaven Bilic as he has given the supporters a rich degree of entertainment, a lot of goals from star individuals, and has led the club towards the next chapter of its history with real momentum.
Haugaard will remain in goal for Stoke, who are unable to call upon Glen Johnson as well as long-term absentees Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland.
A back-up goalkeeper will remain in the West Ham team as Darren Randolph deputises for Adrian, but there are no new injury problems for Bilic to contend with.
Last Meeting: Stoke were left to regret their generosity as they allowed West Ham to hit back from a two-goal deficit to earn a creditable draw in November 2014. It was a one-sided affair in favour of the hosts for the first hour as Victor Moses and Mame Biram Diouf put them into what looked to be a comfortable lead, but a spirited response saw the Hammers draw level through Enner Valencia and the impressive Stewart Downing.
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