Anticipation is building ahead of what Stoke fans believe to be the ideal opportunity for the Potters to finally – at the sixth time of asking – achieve their first Premier League victory of the season.
Stoke started well enough with four straight draws but after their gallant, late defeat at Chelsea last week and with trips to Liverpool and Manchester United on the horizon, manager Tony Pulis will not need to be told that this Saturday’s home match with an out of form Swansea is one his team simply must win. All in all, with the Britannia set to be rocking, Pulis will hope that support will roar his players to their maiden success of the season.
A win at home and two defeats in their next two tough away fixtures would be acceptable, and leave Stoke with seven points that will most likely have the Potters perched safely in mid-table. Anything less and Stoke will face the likelihood of having to get points from two of the toughest destinations in the country if they are to avoid being in the bottom three after eight matches. Eight matches may not seem like many compared to 38, but it is the point in the league when the table begins to take shape.
The fact is that Pulis would target three points even if Swansea at the top of their game. The Welshman would firmly believe that his side’s physicality allied with the craft of Charlie Adam, Matthew Etherington and Michael Kightly would overpower Swansea’s artistry. The fact that the Welsh side have gone off the rails after their explosive start to the season had the purists purring falls right into the Potters’ lap. Ashley Williams in particular seems to be going through a difficult time at the heart of the Swans’ defence and Peter Crouch will surely fancy his chances of exploiting any potential weaknesses in the central defender’s game.
The return of Etherington to fitness is a massive boost for Pulis as he prepares his team. The winger has been sorely missed and will provide an out-ball for the Potters to release the pressure of Swansea’s near-certain monopoly of possession with his pace and dribbling ability. Etherington’s presence also means that Kightly can return to his natural position on the right wing and the two can offer good balance and attacking vibrancy, as well as the work-ethic and commitment to defensive duties that Pulis requires as a pre-requisite.
Additionally, perhaps this is the kind of game for Michael Owen to be given his first start for the club. Jon Walters may well have been one of Stoke’s more impressive players this season and indeed his battering style may well ruffle the feathers of Swansea’s more cultured defenders but this is the sort of game where the home side will need to box clever and take their chances when they arrive. Who better than Owen to do just that?
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke