Stoke Preview - Home, March 15th
Part One: Bristol City 0-0 Watford. Part Two: Second-placed Stoke visit the Hornets on Saturday and three points are a must, if not, this passionate pundit reckons automatic promotion is gone for this season and a trip to Wembley could follow…
The Potters hold a slender three points gap over the Hornets, but, should Boothroyd`s mob get three points on Saturday, they climb to second on goal difference. If Stoke win, a six-point gap at this stage of the season seems unassailable.
It`s times like these that you`re glad your side goes for efficiency over style, the likes of Dan Shittu, Leigh Bromby, John Eustace and Darius Henderson will certainly be up for the scrap come kick off and although the visitors are equally powerful, they`re equally, if not more effective. Yet, despite containing a squad with Ricky Fuller, Mama Sidibe, Jon Parkin and Leon Cort, the Potters certainly do not lack guile either. The likes of Liam Lawrence, Richard Creswell, Danny Pugh and Glen Whelan are all men who prefer their service on the floor.
Sometime we make comparisons between one player and another and really, they aren`t great. However, on this occasion, it`s fair to say Dan Shittu will meet his match in Leon Cort. Both came into this division with clubs promoted from the old Division Two, even older, Division Three. Both are MASSIVE, both moved for big money and both are a massive threat for their teams in both boxes. Yes, Dan Shittu and Leon Cort are probably the most similar players in this division.
Liam Lawrence is one man who has sparkled this season under Tony Pulis, but he`s by no means the last. Let go on-loan by Sunderland last season before joining for a fee of 500k, the former Mansfield protégée has proven Roy Keane wrong. It was at the Stadium of Light that Lawrence made his name, winning promotion before being relegated subsequently. Sunderland`s loss, and Keane`s mistake has been Stoke`s gain and the wideman has provided the Potters with 14 goals from right midfield, prior to this campaign he`d only managed 2 league strikes in a red-and-white striped shirt.
Another man banging in the goals is Ricardo Fuller who`s also on fourteen. Fuller is the original mix of pace and power up front. A terrifying figure at this level where he also earnt a superb goal ratio with 27 in 57 starts, at the Britannia the Jamaican cap has 24 in 59. Lethal probably isn`t the word to describe this boy, but if you`re looking for a quick put down, his international record reads 4 in 32, one every eight. Fuller has had his fair share of turmoil over the years, leaving Preston to join Portsmouth where he managed just one strike before being flogged to newly-relegated Southampton for £90,000, a loss of £910,000 for Pompey. Perhaps not capable of performing at the highest level, but how many players at this level truly are?
Leon Cort has chipped in with more goals than you`d expect for a centre half, notching seven goals in 25 starts. Much like our own Dan Shittu the big man is a huge threat from set-plays which is where most of his goals have come from. All the same, it`s invaluable to any team to have someone who can finish off set-plays, else what`s the point? A strong, determined, brave centre-half by trade, Cort joined the Potters on-loan from Crystal Palace who took Clint Hill in return. The deals were both made permanent after successful run-ups to Christmas and now back in the North Cort is in the form of his life.
We all know about Manchester United wonderkids, but I doubt many Manchester United 'fans` have even heard of Ryan Shawcross. Not a single game at Old Trafford, yet Tony Pulis had the foresight to use the loan market to bring Shawcross to The Potteries. Seven goals and outstanding displays have been his reward and, a million later, Pulis had assembled the other half of his defence. That`s not to say that the Shawcross-Cross pivot across the back is set in stone, Jody Craddock enjoyed a loan spell for Stoke as did Gabrial Zakuani, at the moment, Chris Riggott is on-loan with a view to a permanent move whilst Dom Matteo adds to the defensive options.
Though they might not all be household names, those with any Championship knowledge have to agree that Stoke City have the squad to win promotion, the question, as with so many Football League teams, do they have enough to stay up?
Probably not, so let`s be the kindly Uncle and take second spot off of them, yes? Come on the 'Ornssss!
Nash, Griffin (c), Cort, Riggott, Dickinson; Lawrence, Delap, Diao, Pugh; Cresswell and Sidibe.
Lee; Bromby, DeMerit, Shittu, Sadler; Smith, Eustace, Williamson, McAnuff; Henderson and John.
0708: Stoke 0-0 Watford
0506: Watford 1-0 Stoke
Stoke 0-3 Watford