Tottenham v Stoke City: Potters are far from the ideal recovery game
No team enjoys a visit from Stoke City, and the intimidating physical style of Tony Pulis’ team has won them few friends away from the Britannia Stadium.
Add to this Rory Delap’s bombardment of the box from throw-ins, aimed at Stoke’s army of lofty players and it is easy to understand why they have incurred the scorn of some opponents.
Like Spurs, City are currently suffering from double vision as they balance their ambitions on two fronts.
While the Potters seemingly sit comfortably in 11th place in the Premier League, they are just five points above the relegation zone – but their concern might not necessarily be Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane.
Instead their focus is likely to be on the following week’s FA Cup semi- final against Bolton at Wembley, which offers the prospect of Europe and a first major trophy since the League Cup in 1972.
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Despite their progress, though, some have been quick to condemn, with Arsene Wenger infamously poking a rugby jibe at Stoke. Pulis, however, remains undaunted by the accusations.
“We get criticised for scoring a lot of our goals from set-plays but, as a coach, I actually enjoy us doing that – and I have enjoyed it all my life,” Pulis said.
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“We work on those on the training ground and it is a great reward when they come off, not just for us but for the top clubs too. But I don’t take any notice of what people outside this club say anyway.”
A crucial contribution to this comes from the centre-back pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross and, tellingly, Huth is the club’s second-highest scorer this season.
While Jonathan Walters’ solo effort in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Saturday shows that Stoke are not simply a long-ball team, it is no coincidence that eight of their 11 likely starters are at least 6ft tall – unlike Spurs, who will be fielding the likes of Luka Modric, Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
With that in mind, Harry Redknapp may well call upon Peter Crouch to even the odds again – as he tends to do in these kind of games, including the reverse fixture earlier this season.
The responsibility of feeding Stoke’s giants will fall on the (slightly smaller) shoulders of ex-Spurs man Matthew Etherington and loanee Jermaine Pennant – two orthodox wingers who offer pace on the flanks, as well as accurate deliveries from both open play and dead ball situations.
Stoke’s wide men will be vital if the Potters are to maintain their place in the Premier League, but they will have to cope without Danny Higginbotham now, as the defender is set to be sidelined for up to six months with a cruciate knee ligament problem sustained against Chelsea at the weekend.
“It’s devastating for the kid,” Pulis said of the 32-year-old, “and it has come as a big blow to everyone because he has done so well recently.”
JournalSport verdict: Few teams relish facing Stoke in between European ties, and Pulis’ side love to bring the league’s Champions League contingent down to earth with a bump.
However, for a change, Stoke may be short of their usual bullish fervour, as several players will surely be mindful of avoiding Higginbotham’s fate ahead of their FA semi-final.
Both sides may be distracted so motivation will be a key factor again on Saturday as these sides go head to head – literally.
Prediction: Spurs 1 Stoke 1