The FourFourTwo Preview: Cardiff vs Stoke
Ex-United-Striker-Off as drop-dodgers host top-eight-eyers.
Cardiff's lawyers may (or may not) have written a five-page letter to the Premier League attempting to overturn their 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace, but even the best briefs can't cover their awful form: in 14 league games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer they have won three, drawn two and lost nine.
- So'ton 0-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-0 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
Last Saturday's win at Southampton gave hope, especially with Norwich, West Brom and (most juicily) Swansea falling within four points of the Bluebirds.
They have four games left to catch a couple of the team above them: after Stoke they visit Sunderland and Newcastle before finishing at home to Chelsea.
Trouble is, Cardiff haven't won two successive top-flight games for half a century; now would be a good time to start.
Stoke will have other ideas. A fine run of five wins in seven games, their best top-flight form since 1984, has shown them capable of either grinding out wins (1-0 against Arsenal, Hull and Newcastle) or having some multigoal fun (3-1 vs West Ham, 4-1 vs Aston Villa).
That part of Mark Hughes's plan – marrying Tony Pulis solidity with a more attractive fluidity – is going well. Where Stoke struggle with a split personality is the setting: the division's sixth-best home team is its third-worst on the road.
Only Norwich have gathered fewer than Stoke's 10 points from 17 trips: the Potters' only other road win was at West Ham in August.
Five points behind eighth-placed Southampton and on twice as good form, Stoke will have their eyes set on finishing top of the non-Eurochasers. To do so, they'll have to improve their away form, which is bad news for Cardiff – unless perhaps they manage it on their final trip, to West Brom.
Bruised kidneys sounds like nouvelle cuisine but is actually the condition threatening to keep Kenwyne Jones from facing his old side. He'll be keen: Stoke have rejected his appeal against a £75,000 salary-dock after they fined him two weeks' wages for making himself unavailable earlier in the season. That's right, Kenwyne Jones was on nearly £40k per week, people.
Player to watch: Peter Odemwingie (Stoke)
It's dangerous to label players as emblematic of their manager's mindset, but Odemwingie's arrival just before the January deadline has pimped the Potters: since February 1 they've been in top-four form, with Odemwingie starting 11 of the last 12 games.
Frequently derided but apparently settling in well at Stoke, the Uzbek-born winger/striker faces his previous employers hoping for a repeat of the game at Villa, in which he not only equalised to set Stoke on the way to a 4-1 win but also contributed an unmatched 13 ball recoveries, many deep inside his own half.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-0 Cardiff (Prem, Dec 13)
- Cardiff 0-2 Stoke (FAC, Jan 11)
- Stoke 1-1 Cardiff (FAC, Jan 11)
- Stoke 2-1 Cardiff (Ch'ship, Feb 08)
- Cardiff 0-1 Stoke (Ch'ship, Aug 07)
Hughes, who helped QPR stay up two years ago, has empathised with Solskjaer: "You have to make key decisions at the right time and I wish him well. It's the intensity that takes people aback when they haven't been used to the quality and intensity of the games they face week in, week out." Not that he'll be telling his Stoke players to take it easy...
Facts and figures
- Stoke have conceded in 14 of their last 15 away matches; Cardiff have scored 11 goals in their last 6 games.
- 9 of Cardiff’s last 12 home games have had Over 2.5 Goals.
- 9 of the last 10 Stoke away games to feature a first-half goal have had at least 3 goals.
- Just 1 of Cardiff’s last 9 home matches have been goalless at half-time.
Point-per-game hosts welcome half-point-per-game visitors with less to prove. 2-1 home win provokes more guest room for that frequently unfaithful interloper called hope.