Stoke Focus – Potters season-defining February starts at Fulham

Stoke City are sitting comfortably in the Premier League table and are still involved in both the FA Cup and the Europa League. Whether this remains the case for Stoke by the end of February, will largely depend upon them being able to produce their best form, which has on the whole not been evident so far during 2012.

The Potters are currently on a run of three consecutive defeats in the Premier League and have managed just one point – courtesy of a stalemate against Liverpool at Anfield – since winning 2-1 away to Blackburn on January 2nd.

Tony Pulis will be extremely keen for his side to avert this mid-season slump tomorrow, when they make the trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. After seeing Robert Huth controversially shown a red card against Sunderland last weekend, Pulis has called for the FA to become more involved in punishing players who feign injury to get opponents sent-off.

While the difficulty of the challenge posed by Fulham cannot be underestimated, especially since Arsenal and Newcastle both recently emerged pointless from their respective encounters with Martin Jol’s side in West London, their effort will be supported by the return of Matthew Etherington.

The winger has recovered from the illness that kept him out of the last two games and is now ready to try to help promote an upturn in Stoke’s recent fortunes by rediscovering his own form, about which he voiced an honest dissatisfaction with this season.

I’ll be the first to admit that my form has not been as good as the last two seasons. I’ve had some indifferent performances where I haven’t done myself justice and I have had some good performances,” Etherington told BBC Sport.

Such self-criticism is admirable and indicative of the desire that permeates the Stoke camp to continuously strive for improvement and guard against any complacency that could potentially harm the team’s objectives. This is especially so with the Potters sliding down the league table in recent weeks, although retaining a 10-point gap between them and the relegation zone.

Etherington went on to add: “The gap is slowly getting smaller and it’s time to start picking up some points. You can never be complacent about these things but I know we have a good enough squad. There are a couple of games coming up that are winnable.” The games in question are tomorrow’s clash at Fulham and on February 26 at home to Swansea.

In the interim, an FA Cup clash away to Crawley and a two-legged Europa League tie against Spanish giants Valencia awaits. The outcomes of these five fixtures in February have the potential to define Stoke‘s season.

While this may seem a daunting prospect to some, the Potters experience of defying the odds in recent seasons will almost certainly mean the players will view it as an opportunity to enter March with all still to play for in three competitions.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Fulham v Stoke

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