Arguably the biggest match since last year’s FA Cup final lies ahead for Stoke tomorrow.
The Potters host Barclays Premier league newcomers QPR, hoping to bounce back from a devastatingly uncharacteristic defeat at Bolton.
After a run of games which has seen Stoke pick up just 4 points from 7 matches, a win against the hoops would be a great tonic ahead of an equally juicy encounter at home to Blackburn Rovers next Saturday.
QPR have so far confounded pre-season critics who expected them to struggle, with wins over Everton and Chelsea being particular highlights.
However, only goal difference is separating the two teams heading into tomorrow’s game as both club’s seasons hang in the balance.
The controversial Joey Barton nearly signed for Stoke in the summer, and he will captain a QPR side boasting the likes of Shaun Wright Phillips and Adel Taarabt.
Also, former Potters favourite Clint Hill is in line to make a return to his old stomping ground.
Stoke supporters have often roared their team onto victory in adverse circumstances, and Andy Wilkinson believes they will have a crucial part to play.
The 27-year-old defender told the Sentinel :
‘ We don`t want to make excuses, but we knew from the start this was going to be a tough season for us because we have never been here before.
“The schedule we`ve got is a big ask, but the past shows we are at our best when the odds are against us and our fans are rallying behind us.
“We`ve done so well by winning so many home games, and a huge part of that is down to the fans. And that`s how it must stay.
“No-one likes coming to the Britannia because of the atmosphere.”
Stoke City Team News:
Tomorrow should see the much-welcomed return of skipper Ryan Shawcross.
The Potters were crying out for the 23-year-old’s prescence against Bolton and Matty Etherington should join him in the starting line up.
Marc Wilson was also sidelined against the Wanderers, and there’s every chance he’ll return tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Stoke legend Ricardo Fuller is nearing full fitness, but the game will come too early for him.
Player to watch: Peter Crouch
The 30-year-old started his career at the West London side, and Pulis will be pinning his hopes on the big man to produce the goods against a QPR defence who haven’t exactly been watertight so far this season.
QPR Team News:
DJ Campbell netted the only goal for Blackpool at the Britannia last season, but Stoke fans will be pleased to know that the striker won’t be playing tomorrow.
Kieran Dyer, Fitz Hall, Matthew Connelly and Rob Hulse join him on the sidelines, but other than that, Neil Warnock has a relatively fresh squad to choose from.
Player to watch: Adel Taarabt
All eyes will be on Joey Barton tomorrow, but whilst there is sure to be plenty of banter between Stoke fans and the former Newcastle man, Adel Taarabt’s the only threat I’m worried about.
At times, the Morrocan is unplayable, and Stoke tend to struggle against flair players rather than against the likes of Barton who are good, solid footballers.
Wright Phillips will always be a threat, and former Stoke loanee Jay Bothroyd tore the Championship up last year, and he’ll be keen to prove his ability as a premier league performer.
Match Facts & Stats
Stoke 2-0 QPR
I think Stoke will really be on their metal tomorrow, Pulis will rally the troops and I wouldn’t be surprised if we blew them away.
In the games we need to win at home, we rarely fail to deliver, and I just think Pennant and co will have far too much for Neil Warnock’s side.
Stoke’s next fixture is again at the Britannia, as under-fire boss Steve Kean brings his Blackburn side to the Potteries.