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The Match

Stoke, Bony look to continue momentum vs. West Ham

Amid the cut and thrust of the Premier League, three successive wins is not a feat to be sniffed at and happily it is one the Potters successfully realised with Monday's 3-1 triumph over Swansea.

Some may point to the fact that their trio of victories came against the sides currently occupying the relegation places but a team can only beat whoever is put in front of them; and comfortably beat them they did. In truth, it was an undeniably fortuitous set of fixtures that came at just the right stage of the team's recovery from a stuttering start to the season and in that respect Mark Hughes won't be complaining.

What begun as Stoke's worst ever start to a league campaign after five games has quickly turned into their second best at this stage in the nine seasons they've contested in the Premier League since promotion back to the top flight in 2008.

West Ham UnitedWest Ham United
Stoke CityStoke City
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As ever, the margins are fine and last month's screams of dissent at the stewardship of Hughes have all but dissipated to a whisper from a minority of fans who remain unconvinced by the Welshman's tenure. There's still some way to go, though, and the game against West Ham arguably offers a more meaningful barometer against which any turnaround in form should be measured.

While the Hammers have suffered their own below-par start to the season, they too have started to turn a corner with their recent performances. Much like Stoke, even though they are far from playing at the height of their ability, they have still distanced themselves from the seemingly doomed trinity of Sunderland, Hull and Swansea an should offer Stoke a real test.

Hughes will be more than aware of the step change in terms of the quality of the opposition and as such will be sweating on the fitness and availability of Xherdan Shaqiri who having suffered a tight hamstring on Monday and was removed from proceedings with less than half an hour on the clock.

Sadly, the bad luck didn't stop there as the booking of Marko Arnautovic (for perfectly winning the ball, no less) means he misses out, which leaves Hughes facing the prospect of having neither of his first choice wide men available for selection.

Wilfried Bony Stoke
It took seven games, but Wilfried Bony finally got on the scoresheet for Stoke with a brace against old club, Swansea.

Any disadvantage in those areas is mitigated in part by the apparent availability of Ramadan Sobhi who, having been left out of the squad completely for the last four games, came in for the stricken Shaqiri to play a starring role over on the left side.

His wing wizardry was a welcome revelation but it was his strength and work off the ball which gives particular encouragement that he is in pole position to start at the London Stadium on Saturday. There's always the risk, though, that away from home against a decent side, the manager instead will opt for the experience of a Jon Walters which, having enjoyed the silky skills of Sobhi, would be a disappointment for those making the trip south.

Aside from his wing woes, Hughes will also be hoping that Geoff Cameron defies expectation and manages to overcome his knee injury to reassume a defensive midfield role alongside Glenn Whelan vs. West Ham. His failure to pass a fitness test before the Swansea game meant that the door was opened for Charlie Adam who ably deputised on the night in a deeper role than he is perhaps used to.

It was an impressive performance on the ball for the Scot but when the side was out of possession the absence of Cameron's athleticism and presence was almost immediately felt. Pairing Cameron and Whelan in the middle has been key to the side stopping their defensive rot and brought some much-needed solidity to a particularly problematic area of the pitch. Hopefully that duo will be reunited at the weekend.

Further up-field, Wilfried Bony finally found his goal-scoring boots with a well-earned brace against his former club and will be hoping to make up for a barren 2016 with more of the same.

History suggests that now that he has gotten off the mark for his new club, the goals will flow and his scoring rate while at Swansea is enough to whet the appetite of the fans who have stuck by him throughout his dry patch. Watch out West Ham.

James Whittaker is ESPN FC's Stoke blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @northstokie


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