Make no mistake about it: everyone now knows that Stoke are firmly in a relegation battle. Where before it was only whispered quietly, now even the club’s supporters, players and staff, including manager Tony Pulis, are talking about it on a daily basis.
Currently sitting just three points above the drop zone in 16th position, with 18th-placed Wigan still with a game in hand, the Potters now face relegation rivals QPR, Norwich and Sunderland before ending the season with clashes against Tottenham and Southampton. So just where are Stoke going to get the six points that Pulis believes will be enough to guarantee safety?
Norwich (home) 27 April – This is the sort of match the Potters would have gobbled up in the past on home soil. However, in recent weeks Pulis’ men have struggled to break down opponents at the Britannia, where this season their reputation has perhaps begun to go before them. Norwich can be obdurate opponents but their lack of firepower could hinder them too. This represents a massive opportunity for the Potters. Prediction: 3 points
Sunderland (away) – 6 May – Sunderland have shown signs since the appointment of Paolo Di Canio that the Italian might just have enough passion to galvanise the Black Cats and pull them away from the drop zone. Certainly if their thumping Tyne-Wear derby win is anything to go by, Stoke will find it difficult to take anything away from what is sure to be a rocking Stadium of Light. Prediction: 0 points
Tottenham (home) – 12 May – On paper, it’s the toughest match left in Stoke’s run-in, and Tottenham are sure to be firmly in the race for Champions League football by the time this match comes around. However, the Lilywhites have just shown signs of tightening up of late and it remains to be seen what sort of form or pressure they will be under by the time they visit the Britannia. Stoke are capable of rocking the big games and have a reasonably good record against Spurs in the Premier League. Prediction: 1 point
Southampton (away) – 19 May – Southampton will have very little to play for on the final day of the season having long secured their safety, but that could make them a dangerous opponent for the Potters, who were shocked by the Saints’ bold, quick attacking movement at the Britannia in late December. If Stoke go into this game needing something, they could well be in trouble. Prediction: 0 points
So by those calculations, the Potters will accumulate five more points, leaving them on 39 points and one short of Tony Pulis’ target. Will that be enough to save them? Quite possibly, though it undoubtedly will remain tight right until the final day.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on QPR v Stoke