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The Match

Transfer Rater: Spurs' Janssen to Stoke


Potters fans hoping for payback

Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce meet again on Sunday, with Stoke hoping to hit back after their opening-day defeat to Aston Villa.

A week is a long time in football; at least that's what they say, and the past seven days have felt like an eternity for Stoke fans who want to banish the 1-0 loss to Aston Villa with hope of a result against Steve Bruce's Hull City on Sunday.

Fortunately, it would appear that the Stoke management and players are of the same mind-set, with plenty of quotes coming out of the club about how disappointed they all were with the result and performance. The tone of those messages suggest that the softly spoken Hughes perhaps raised the decibel levels a touch to leave his squad in no doubt as to exactly what is and isn't acceptable.

Saturday's loss to Villa falls firmly into the latter category, and it will take a significant adjustment in urgency and attitude to put that "performance" right -- and Stoke fans are hopeful that's exactly what will happen.

The team will be keen to put on a show, not just for their own fans but for the millions tuning in around for world for a match covered as part of Sky's Super Sunday. I've spent the summer telling anyone who will listen about the revolution underway in the Potteries -- as have many of my fellow fans -- so there's almost a collective ownership of pride at stake come 1pm BST on Sunday afternoon.

In that respect, supporters perhaps feel a little more let down than they normally would after a narrow defeat; expectation is a relatively new concept in the stands, and after such a productive summer they could be forgiven for expecting so much more than they witnessed in that opening fixture.

I'm not sure there will be many changes, in personnel at least, to last week, but I would expect to see Bojan Krkic moved into the hole behind Mame Diouf at the expense of Stephen Ireland with Peter Odemwingie reclaiming the right hand side. It might even be that Bojan is left out of the starting lineup altogether; Hughes' comments after the Villa defeat suggest that he may pick and choose the matches in which he thinks the Spaniard will be most effective.

It could be argued that Hull's preferred shape of 3-5-2 suggests this could be a game in which he could shine, exposing some of the space behind their back three, who will hopefully be left stretched trying to cover the runs of the wingers.

The only other changes I could see would be a new face in the middle of defence and midfield -- the two players at risk of missing out would be Irishmen Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan. While Wilson deputised adequately for the majority of last season, his propensity for making errors directly linked to goals conceded make him a constant liability. Stoke continue to miss the presence and decisiveness of Robert Huth and the fruitful relationship he has with skipper Ryan Shawcross, who looks a lot more assured next to him. It's not clear whether Huth's fitness remains a concern or if Hughes simply prefers a player more comfortable in possession like Wilson, despite his defensive shortcomings.

In front of them is Whelan, a player who was one of the standout performers in the second half of the last campaign but one who needs to be playing at 100 percent of his ability to maintain that level.

If his game drops just a little then he looks an entirely different prospect, one who makes poor decisions, who panics when the ball comes to him and opts for the safety of a pass back towards his defence. This is the Whelan fans saw against Aston Villa. I'm far from writing him off, but in signing Steve Sidwell, Hughes clearly has his own thoughts for that area of the pitch, and despite Steven N'Zonzi not faring much better, it is more likely to be Whelan who would miss out if the manager decided to make a change there.

Sidwell is a classic box-to-box midfielder but one who last season boasted a higher successful tackling rate than Geoff Cameron and trailed only Erik Pieters from the current squad. I don't think he signed to be a bit part player and at the moment is simply biding his time and waiting for his chance to get involved.

Whether that happens on Sunday or against Portsmouth on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup only Hughes knows -- but as long as he goes into that cup game off the back of a win at Hull, I don't think the fans will care.


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