Fast forward a few days day and there were very real fears that Stoke could be sitting level on points with both Wigan and Aston Villa after the weekend’s fixtures, only out of the bottom three courtesy of a superior goal difference.
Indeed, were they to suffer defeat at Loftus Road to QPR it would leave the Potters facing a real crisis of confidence ahead of the visit of a Norwich side, similarly battling for their lives, to the Britannia.
However, Tony Pulis’ men can now confidently welcome to the Canaries to the Potteries after a quite superb sequence of results at the weekend. Not only did Stoke take only their second away win of the season and comfortably so at QPR courtesy of strikes from Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, but both Wigan and Aston Villa suffered defeats to leave Pulis’ men a full six points above the drop zone, though the Latics still have a game in hand.
Indeed, with Newcastle also dropping points, Stoke moved up to 15th in the table and now know that victory over Norwich in front of their home fans, where until very recently they have often looked imperious, will take them to the magical 40-point-mark that should – should
Even Norwich appeared to do them a favour of sorts by taking three points of their own against Reading. That win moved Chris Hughton’s men to 38 points and though they may still be looking over their shoulders, it looks highly unlikely that they will be relegated. Will they travel to Britannia with quite the same motivation that they otherwise would have?
However, despite the welcome victory over QPR, the pressure will still firmly be on Stoke by kick-off on Saturday afternoon. Norwich can be notoriously tough to break down on the road and the home support will be baying for Pulis to send out an attack-minded side.
Yes, the caution may have paid off at Loftus Road. But at home, it has been a big criticism of the manager that against the Premier League’s lesser lights, Stoke still remain reticent to have a real go from minute one of matches.
Against Norwich, the Potters simply must go for it. This is not a game in which a draw is enough, despite the comfort that three points at QPR has given them. With a tough final three fixtures that sees them travel to Sunderland and Southampton with a visit from Champions League-chasing Tottenham in between, it is conceivable that Stoke may not win another point following this Saturday.
Therefore, though a point will take them to 38, can that tally really be a guarantee of safety in three games’ time? Pulis must go for it.
That means no Ryan Shotton or Charlie Adam wide on the right, it means Michael Kightly. It means Matthew Etherington if he is fit and it means Crouch flanked by either Walters or Cameron Jerome, with the Irishman moving wide if Etherington fails to prove his fitness in time.
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