It was hardly the sort of sterile performance Stoke City have been putting in with some regularity of late but the improvement shown by the Potters at Goodison Park was not enough to prevent a 1-0 defeat and continue their slide towards the bottom three.
Though Stoke did show some positives and threatened through efforts from Jonathan Walters, Robert Huth and Cameron Jerome, in truth it never looked likely that Tony Pulis’ men would get back into the match after being undone by Kevin Mirallas’ wonderful solo first-half strike.
The defeat was Stoke’s sixth straight away defeat and their 10th from their last 13 league games since the victory over Liverpool on Boxing Day had left them on the cusp of the European places.
Pulis’ men remain relatively well-placed at the moment in 13th position. Indeed, should Fulham fall to defeat at home to QPR on Monday night then the Potters are still only two points behind them and a place in the top half of the table.
However, the problem is that during Stoke’s winless run, the teams below them have steadily begun to catch up. Indeed, it is not just the likes of Southampton, Norwich and Newcastle but further down the likes of Wigan and Aston Villa have won enough games recently to leave the gap between 18th place and Stoke at just four points.
Relegation still appears an unlikely prospect especially considering that seven teams are effectively competing to stay out of only two relegation spots, with basement club Reading more or less gone, though only Sunderland are in poorer form than the Potters currently are.
Additionally, a quick look at Stoke’s remaining seven fixtures will give an indication of just why the nerves are truly beginning to jangle around the Britannia Stadium. Next week sees the Potters host Aston Villa where a win for the visitors could really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Following that comes a clash against champions-elect Manchester United, before Stoke face the struggling trio of QPR, Norwich and Sunderland, before ending the season with matches against Champions League-chasing Tottenham and improving Southampton.
Certainly it appears that the triple clash against sides similarly devoid of form could define the Potters’ season. Vitally, two of those matches come away from home and so the clash with Villa at the Britannia next week takes on almost added importance. Victory for the hosts and that should be enough to ensure safety, no matter what the long term future of under-fire boss Tony Pulis is.
A draw or a defeat will leave the Potters needing to somehow reverse an away record that ranks as amongst the worst in the whole league all season if they are to secure their place in the Premier League next season.
In seasons past, the knowledge that four of Stoke’s seven games left to play being at home would fill the fans with confidence. The problem is that at this point in time, Stoke look rather incapable of winning games neither at the Britannia or away from it.
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