Matchday: Hammers to smash Potters?

The battle for mid-table supremacy is at stake in this mouthwatering end of season encounter.

Matchday StokeIf it wasn’t for the remote mathematical possibility that either of these two sides could still be relegated then this match would be about as pointless as they come.  In fact the fixture computer has come up with a set of Saturday matches so uninspiring that an afternoon spent in the shed sorting your tools into alphabetical order sounds a more attractive proposition.  Today’s five Premier League matches feature only two teams from the top half of the table.

It could be pointed out that merit based payments mean an extra £2 million per league placing but I doubt that this is much of a motivating factor for the average minted footballer.  If there is only pride to play for then it could be a very drab ninety minutes, even though Slav insists that we are treating every game like a cup final (if anyone can remember what one of those is like!).

People are talking about who is safe but it is irrelevant. We have four games left, a big game on Saturday and we are looking for points. There is a gap between us and mid-table, it is a small gap but with four games to go we are talking about 12 points and we have to concentrate on our next game.  We are approaching them as four cup finals.

– Slaven Bilic is looking for points

The supercomputer at Euro Club Index has crunched the numbers and by their reckoning we will finish the season in 15th place with 42 points, two points and four places below today’s opponents at the blandly dubbed bet365 stadium.  The computer further concludes a 29% chance of a West Ham victory this afternoon, without which the opportunity to accumulate the predicted end of season total of 42 points appears improbable.

Head to Head

With Stoke situated close to the unhappy hunting grounds of the north-west it is unsurprising that we have a second rate record from our visits over the years, having won just ten times from thirty eight attempts.  The last three away victories, all by the only goal of the game, came in 2005 (Bobby Zamora), 2009 (Diego Tristan) and 2013 (Jack Collison).  Despite West Ham’s striker woes, the Hammers have only failed to score in three away matches this season (Arsenal, Everton and Leicester) so perhaps another solid defensive display will allow us to sneak one more one-nil success.

Team News

Mark Noble and Sam Byram return to the squad after suspension and apparently Robert Snodgrass and Sofiane Feghouli are also available again (if anyone is interested).  On the other hand Cheikhou Kouyate, Winston Reid, Arthur Masuaku and Diafra Sakho are all reported as injury doubts for the Hammers.

If everyone was available my only change would be Sakho for the hapless Jonathan Calleri and, maybe, Byram in for Edmilson Fernandes.  I would stick with Havard Nordtveit and Kouyate in central midfield as the Kouyate/ Noble partnership has proved not to work on countless occasions and Nordtveit/ Noble would be criminally slow.  I fully expect, however, that Noble will be back in the starting eleven.

The mood’s fine. We’re looking forward to the game tomorrow. It’s an important one for us clearly.

– Mark Hughes in inspiring form

Stoke may be missing Jon Walters who has regularly been a thorn in the side of West Ham and for the determinists/ fatalists among us the disturbing fact that Saido Berahino has scored in three of his four previous starts against West Ham but hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since February 27th 2016 will have the alarm bells ringing.

The Man in the Middle

Appropriately for West Ham, it is injury prone Lee Probert from Wiltshire refereeing today’s game.  Probert missed all last season due to injury and takes charge of only his second Premier League game of 2016/17.  His last meeting with the Hammers was in the unforgettable 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane in 2013.  In a grand total of twenty eight games this season he has issued a conservative sixty four yellow and four red cards.

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