Peter Odemwingie to earn his Spurs up front?
Following an impressive performance, if not slightly disappointing result at Cardiff, up next for the Potters are Tottenham, who arrive in good form of their own under manager Tim Sherwood.
It's a game that shouldn't unnecessarily faze a Stoke side flying high as they seek to claim a top-ten finish for the first time in the Premier League. Spurs themselves have played their part in some decent games since the Potters' promotion back to the top flight, more often than not in games won by a single goal with a relatively even spread of the points.
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The game that sticks out most in my memory though is when they visited in the 2008-09 season, in a game that would epitomise the years to come under former boss Tony Pulis. It was a match full of incidents, none more ironic than one Tom Soares (now of Bury FC) giving Gareth Bale (now of Real Madrid) a torrid time down the wing culminating in a clumsy Bale tackle that earned him an early bath (later to be joined by Michael Dawson). At this point Danny Higginbotham faced his biggest challenge of the afternoon, trying to take the resulting spot kick before the ball was swept away by the now notorious windy weather blowing in through the gaps in the corners of the stadium.
Not only would Spurs need to find their way back into the game but they would have to do so while dealing with the little known phenomenon of Rory Delap's howitzers from the touchline. As would prove to be the case with every visitor that term, Tottenham couldn't deal with it and their goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, was quite literally reduced to tears having been subjected to a bombardment of balls and bodies that must have seemed a world away from the beaches in his native Brazil. That would prove to be one of many hard fought victories at the Brit over the years, but fast forward to this season and Stoke are doing things very differently under the new manager Mark Hughes.
Having been earmarked by many, including some of his own team's fans, of being certainties for relegation, Hughes has quietly gone about his business and transformed the Potters into a side who are respected as well as feared. Stoke's home form is up there with the best in the league and with only home losses to Norwich and Liverpool they will be hoping to overcome Saturday’s latest challengers. Having been unlucky not to have taken all three points against Cardiff in their last game and with a top-ten finish firmly in sight, I'm hoping that fans will see a motivated and determined side desperate to prove those naysayers wrong by breaking a number of club records.
To do so the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie will need to be on form. Arnautovic has been Stoke's best player in recent months and with Oussama Assaidi back in the frame, he will (hopefully) be doing all he can to extend his impressive run in the side at his expense. He'll be coming up against a player in Kyle Naughton who has struggled to make a meaningful impact in the Premier League following his move from Sheffield United. From what I have seen of him he looks to be the player Stoke should target most and given it will be Arnautovic on that side, I'm expecting much of the team's success on the day will be down that flank.
Following a brilliant run of goal-scoring form, Odemwingie has been quiet in the last couple of games so he too will be hoping to get back to making the kind of impact fans have been lucky enough to get used to. One option I suggested in my blog after the Cardiff game was to give him a chance through the middle in the place of Peter Crouch, which I maintain is a tactic well worth exploring. While the attacking shape of the side has improved exponentially with the form of Arnautovic and the introduction of Odemwingie, the final piece of the attacking puzzle, Crouch, has continued to hamper the quicker breaks upfield. In almost every game there are more than a handful of balls played through the middle or over the top that need that extra bit of pace to exploit, something Crouch, for all his other attributes, just does not have.
At this stage of the season and looking ahead to the next campaign, it makes perfect sense to at least give it a go; especially against a side known under their current manager for leaving gaping holes in behind as they over-commit. It could well be a successful tactic and in case it is, Stoke fans will be sure to leave some tissues for Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.