Preview: Stoke City

While Sunday’s win over Barnsley hasn’t guaranteed safety, it has at least put the Sky Blues on the precipice of securing it. One more point will probably be enough, another win will put the team past the point of worrying about other results.

There are four opportunities to get that one result, which may or may not be needed. The sooner 50 points can be surpassed, the sooner attention can truly be turned to next season and this Coventry City side can show what it can do when free from pressure. An away trip to a Stoke City side in indifferent form feels a decent opportunity to get that result.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; Ostigard, McFadzean, Hyam; Dacosta, James, Hamer, McCallum; O'Hare; Gyokeres, Godden.
Possible Line-Up

After two big efforts over the past week, Mark Robins may be tempted to rotate the team, where possible, with Saturday’s game against Preston North End at St Andrew’s arguably the better opportunity to secure survival.

At the back, Mark Robins’ options to change things up are limited by injuries. Between now and the end of the season, there may be opportunities for Michael Rose and Josh Reid to show what they are capable of, having recovered from injuries, but this game is likely to be too soon for either of them. There’s a chance Fankaty Dabo could return for this game but this may also be too soon.

Midfield and attack is the likeliest area of change. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Mark Robins try something different in an attempt to begin building for next season. A return to the 3-4-2-1 is a possibility, but it is likelier that any experimentation will only begin once safety is mathematically guaranteed.

Nonetheless, a night off for either Matty James or Liam Kelly seems a possibility, handing a chance for Gustavo Hamer to demonstrate a return to form. In attack, a straight swap between the pairing of Tyler Walker and Maxime Biamou for the fresher, Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres is probably on the cards.

Last Time We Met

It was during the absolute nadir of the post-November international break retreat when Coventry City took on Stoke City back on Boxing Day. The Sky Blues offered almost no threat to Stoke City’s goal and neither did they appeared to be that bothered about doing so.

The best chances of the game fell to the visitors in the second-half, via Jordan Thompson, who hit the crossbar, and Steven Fletcher, who sent a free header wide. You could have been taken a post-Christmas Day, tryptophan-induced nap during that game and not missed anything.

The Opposition

The Manager – Michael O’Neill

After an impressive run following his appointment last season, where Stoke City went from relegation contenders to one of the better teams in the division, Michael O’Neill’s Potters have been a mild disappointment this year. Expected to push for at least the top six, O’Neill has struggled to win games consistently despite building a solid defensive unit.

With this campaign fizzling out for Stoke, O’Neill is starting to find himself under pressure to demonstrate that he is the man to take the club forward next season. Having carved out some of the rot around the club and promoting a number of promising young players into his plans, O’Neill has done good work at Stoke City, however, the lack of goals and some questionable signings raise question marks as to whether he is the man to get the club out of the division.

This would probably be the kind of game where, if fans were in attendance, there would be an edgy, tetchy atmosphere in the Stoke City stands.

Who To Look Our For

Possible Line-Up (4-1-2-1-2): Davies; Smith, Chester, Batth, Norrington-Davies; Mikel; Clucas, Tymon; Powell; Norton, Fletcher.
Possible Line-Up

Amid an indifferent run of form, Stoke City are currently without a host of important players, including Nathan Collins and Harry Souttar at the back, Joe Allen in midfield and Tyrese Campbell in attack. With little to play for, Michael O’Neill has begun experimenting with formations and young players ahead of next season.

Nonetheless, the starting point with this Stoke side is in defence, where Adam Davies in goal, and the centre-back pairing of Danny Batth and James Chester are experienced, reliable campaigners at this level. There is energy from full-back in Tommy Smith and Rhys Norrington-Davies, while John Obi Mikel is a sturdy presence in front of that back four.

In Sam Clucas and Nick Powell, Stoke have midfield players capable of providing moments of brilliance. Powell more so than Clucas, the latter of whom has had a disappointing campaign having been a stellar player at Championship level in recent years. Powell, though, has continued to demonstrate his quality as one of the best attacking players in the division on his day, stepping up with some key goals from either a midfield or makeshift centre-forward role.

Up front, Steven Fletcher is a reasonably reliable goalscorer in this division and also a physical presence in attack. Wide-forward Jacob Brown can supply the energy and pace that Stoke have lacked in attack for much of the season but has been frustrating in his final output. Similarly, January loan signings, Rabbi Matondo and Jack Clarke, promised extra attacking verve but have delivered close to nothing.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

If the Sky Blues can maintain the same levels of concentration and intensity as in recent performances, it should be enough to at least keep a clean sheet in this game. There is a decent chance of even winning this game simply by avoiding making mistakes and being as threatening from set-pieces as this Coventry City side has been recently.

Keeping Steven Fletcher quiet is the kind of job that Kyle McFadzean should be able to perform. Nick Powell could cause this team problems if he can find space between the lines of defence and midfield, however, it’s something that Liam Kelly and Matty James have shown in recent games they can deal with.

While Stoke City could still win this game by virtue of having better players in most positions, this feels like the kind of end of season fixture that could be decided by the team with slightly more to play for having an extra level determination to get the result they need.

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