The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Newcastle
Two teams heading in opposite directions.
In one particularly memorable episode of mob drama The Sopranos, Christopher Moltisanti described a recurring nightmare in which the same sorry scene was playing out on a loop. He found himself inside an Irish bar, The Emerald Piper, surrounded by Irishmen playing dice. “They were winning every roll,” complained Moltisanti, who feared this meant he was in hell.
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 Everton (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
Paul ‘Paulie Walnuts’ Gaultieri begged to differ, though. "You didn't go to hell,” laughed his mob associate. “You went to purgatory, my friend."
Purgatory, as all good God-fearing folk know, is a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners. Better than hell but still no picnic, it does at least have a happier ending. Heaven is said to follow.
At this moment in time, Newcastle must feel like Moltisanti, stuck in limboland where the same harrowing scene is being played out before their eyes. Week after week, different variations on the same soul-sucking defeat is served up on a loop. 0-3, 0-3, 0-4. Repeat. 0-3, 0-4, 0-4. And on. And on. Ad infinitum.
This is not a dream, though. They have a team who can’t defend and can’t score goals, but worse than that, they have a team who just don’t care, a man who cannot manage and an owner who won’t spunk his jockstrap millions on a team worthy of the black-and-white stripes. The locals want to wake up and realise it was all just a terrible dream. But that’s unlikely.
The latest gutless defeat saw a very plain Manchester United made to look like champions. A team without Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie scored four. Newcastle scored nothing, and scored little more for effort. Their fans are stuck in purgatory but there appears to be no sign of heaven at the end. Particularly not with Stoke awaiting next.
In stark contrast, the Potters find themselves as close to the Promised Land as any of their followers could dare imagine. After their own purgatory under Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes' brand of quick, incisive, passing football has drawn comparisons with tiki-taka.
Laughable comparisons, sure, because Hughes is still saddled with players who don't fit his swashbuckling shape and style of play – the likes of Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters, who literally can't keep up – but comparisons nonetheless.
The rebirth of Stephen Ireland and the pace and power of Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie hint at the direction Hughes wants to take Stoke in. Last Saturday's deserved 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge offered a reality check, but with Stoke 10th in the table and climbing, positivity among the Potters is at an all-time high. And it's hard to see Newcastle doing anything to change that on Saturday.
Adam is Stoke’s main injury issue – the stroppy Scot fractured his nose at Chelsea and may have to wear a protective face mask if he’s to play. More importantly, Ireland is expected to have recovered from the light illness that kept him out at Stamford Bridge.
Loic Remy is training but not yet ready to return to action from a calf problem that has kept him out for five games, during which time Newcastle have scored just once.
Player to watch: Peter Odemwingie (Stoke)
A man reborn under Hughes, Odemwingie's goals (4 in 8) have propelled Stoke upwards, but it’s his appetite and application that have stood out. Tireless performances in the recent victories over Aston Villa and Hull saw Odemwingie make key contributions both offensively and defensively. The Nigerian typifies the new breed of quick, energetic footballer around whom Hughes is rebranding Stoke. His work-rate has been an inspiration to others, and few ever expected to write that about Peter Odemwingie.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 5-1 Stoke (Prem, Dec 13)
- N'castle 2-1 Stoke (Prem, Mar 13)
- Stoke 2-1 N'castle (Prem, Nov 12)
- N'castle 3-0 Stoke (Prem, Apr 12)
- Stoke 1-3 N'castle (Prem, Oct 11)
Hughes has guided Stoke to within eight points of their highest Premier League points total and placing – they have five games to top their PB of 47 points and secure a top-half finish for the first time. Hughes has impressed by replacing the Charles Hughes Bombardment Blueprint favoured by Pulis with a high-tempo game.
Two defeats in their last 10 games illustrate the progress he's made, particularly as those defeats came at Chelsea and Manchester City. "It's a wake-up call because we've got five games we expect to take points from," said Hughes, no doubt with Newcastle in mind.
By contrast, a recent poll of irate Geordies, which possibly included Ant and Dec, Sting and Jimmy Nail, revealed that 86% now want Alan Pardew sacked – unsurprising, given 10 defeats in 15 games and that seven-match suspension for headbutting David Meyler. At least the 14% will be happy with the news that Newcastle’s top brass have given him their backing and are planning for a summer spending spree that could see them sign as many as "one or two players a year". Yes, that should do it.
Facts and figures
- All 7 matches between these teams since 2010/11 have had at least 3 goals while Newcastle have won 4 of their 5 meetings since 2011/12.
- Stoke have lost only 1 of their last 13 home games – against Liverpool.
- Loic Remy has missed 8 of Newcastle’s 11 games since selling Yohan Cabaye and they’ve scored just 1 goal while losing to nil 7 times – they are unbeaten in the 3 matches he’s played in this time.
- Stoke have lost just 1 of their 16 home games against middle-third teams since the start of last season whilst winning 10 times.
Newcastle might not lose 4-0 again but it's hard to see anything other than another defeat – to avenge the 5-1 trousering Newcastle somehow dished out on Boxing Day. 2-0.