The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs West Ham
The race to mid-table mediocrity.
Normally at this point of the season, 10th vs 12th would bring a tut and a roll of the eyes from even the most loyal season ticket holder. A nothing game where being the best of a middling bunch was all there was to play for. How different it is this time around.
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
WEST HAM FORM
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Swansea (Prem)
Stoke and West Ham have a matching points tally of 31, which leaves them six points off 18th place. That’s not that exciting. What is slightly more exciting is that Sunderland, who reside in 19th place on 24 points, have two games in hand. If either the Irons or the Potters were to start losing games they, along with anyone else in the bottom half could find themselves in some deep doo-doo.
Mark Hughes’s side is in a bit of mess for this game. Jonathan Walters and Charlie Adam are both suspended for red cards dished out in their last two fixtures, which is a major attacking blow when you consider they’ve scored more than a third of Stoke’s Premier League goals this season (10 of 29).
The fear here for West Ham fans is that Sam Allardyce doesn’t take this on board and go for the win. The Hammers’ boss is keen to point out clean sheets in post-match interviews, but the travelling support will see a weakened Stoke side as an opportunity to put crystal clear, blue, sunny daylight between them and the relegation zone.
From a neutral’s point of view, this could be a horrible game to watch. Two solidly defensive sides, kicking seven shades of sugar out of each other for 90 minutes with little in the way of flair or beauty.
As mentioned, having Walters and Adams out will dull the Potters’ cutting edge to that of a butter knife. Also, the news that long-term absentee Robert Huth has broken down again and is likely to miss the rest of the season will be a psyshological blow that Hughes’ team could have done without.
West Ham have no new injury concerns or suspensions for this game, but it’s worth noting the fairly abysmal disciplinary record of both these sides this season. Saturday's referee, Craig Pawson, has looked after two Stoke games this season and dished out five yellows to the Potters across the two matches.
Key battle: Ryan Shawcross vs Andy Carroll
For those of you old enough to remember the Rocky films, Rocky IV featured a Cold War throwdown between Sly Stallone’s stars-and-stripes-wearing Rocky and Russia’s robo-boxer Drago (played by the immaculately flat-topped Dolph Lundgren). The trailer for the movie ended with a boxing glove covered in the red, white and blue colliding with a red Russian glove and exploding. That’s what this match-up will bring at the Britannia – BOOM!
These comparison screens from Stats Zone show West Ham’s second most frequent pass combination during their last away game (vs Everton) – Adrian to Carroll (goalkeeper to big man up top) – alongside Shawcross’ headed clearances vs Norwich. That long ball approach from the Irons will mean a long, bruising afternoon for both players. Carroll’s temperament will be put to the test today although Shawcross is no Chico Flores.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Aug 13)
- Stoke 0-1 W Ham (Prem, Mar 13)
- W Ham 1-1 Stoke (Prem, Nov 12)
- Stoke 2-1 W Ham (FAC, Mar 11)
- W Ham 3-0 Stoke (Prem, Mar 11)
Both Hughes and Allardyce will feel they’ve probably done just about enough to leave them sitting pretty come the summer. Of the two, Sparky may be feeling the pressure more having altered the team’s approach to a more possession-based-style of football. The possession is there but the goals haven’t followed – these things do take time, after all. Both gaffers have endured uncomfortable periods this season thanks to injuries and suspensions but Saturday is all about not losing. A draw would be fine – not ideal, but fine. This will be a masterclass in risk avoidance football with plenty of “get rid!” and slow walks off the pitch from substitutes.
Facts and figures
- Stoke have drawn 6 of 14 home games this season – only West Brom have drawn more.
- Stoke have not trailed at half-time in their last 11 home matches, with 8 being level at the break.
- West Ham have drawn 4 of their last 9 trips to bottom-half teams, including three 0-0s.
- The 3 meetings between these teams since the start of last season have seen just 4 goals.
- There have been fewer than 3 goals in 8 of West Ham’s 10 away matches this season excluding against the current top six.
0-0. How else could this match realistically end?