In Toon Today: Stoke City – THE TEAM THAT FUN FORGOT.

Who Manages Them?                  

Like an ageing headmistress looking back at an unfulfilled life, Mark Hughes will be a skulking Premier League football manager until those in charge insist on entertainment fair play rather than financial fair play.

He currently manages Stoke City but Hughes has pedestrianised a few other outfits lacking ambition and could easily manage a few more. He’d be right up Mike Ashley’s project, even more direct than Sports Direct.

His teams are uncannily like ‘Sparky’ was as a player; bustling, strong, attritional and effectively plain, his playing career coinciding with largely mediocre spells at Europe’s biggest clubs. Barca, Bayern, Manyoo and Chelsea all went on to better things immediately after he left, he can claim that he helped lay the foundations at least.

Managing Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and now Stoke, has not yet brought any football honours but he has got an OBE for not getting Wales to Euro 2004 and while not as interesting as ‘A Hobbits Tale: There and Back Again’, his autobiography, ‘Sparky – Barcelona, Bayern and Back’ would make an excellent film, Helen Mirren perfect for the lead role.

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(Peter Crouch during his ‘Stop Vurnon Anita’ training)

After a recent 0-1 win away at Leicester, Hughes seemed to be staring at a rotting rat carcass on the floor as he said Stoke had completed a “professional away performance.” He managed to make the three points sound as much fun as cleaning the carcass up.

Who have They Bought?             

Bojan Krkic came in for a fee which only Barcelona’s accountants would be able to confirm, Stoke seem to have paid around £3million for him but the Euro must have been having a particularly good day that day because it looks like Barca only got half of that into their coffers.

Either way he’s a good player despite not having enough vowels in his name, still Barca Juniors highest ever scorer with 400+ goals and he’s one of the few Stoke players who can see the floor, never mind use it to play on. Bojan is injured today and so is 6 foot 4 inch £400,000 Slovakian defender Dionatan Teixeira, who has too many vowels in his name.

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6 foot 5 inch January loan signing Philipp Wollscheid should play now that ginger HGV Ryan Shawcross has a groin injury and free transfers Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley should also play, though I use the word ‘play’ in its loosest possible sense.

Signed on a free from Germany, lanky ex-Manyoo forward Mame Biram Diouf should be involved at some point today, having come back from the African Cup of Nations with his Senegals between his legs.

Unlike Papiss Cisse, Diouf at least managed some decent game time while in Equatorial Guinea and scored a goal as well, something he has consistently failed to do anywhere apart from Hannover. Something else he failed to do was get to his own wedding on time, in 2011 Diouf went missing for a few days before the ceremony, with his fiancée blaming his disappearance on the best man who was also a footballer called Diouf.

The reason for his disappearance has never been made public, the reason for his disappearance during many of the matches he is selected for is rather more obvious.

Who Have We Seen Before?    

Taking advantage of Bojan’s injury, Stephen Ireland will probably play today. Ireland and Hughes have been inseparable over the last decade and it was no surprise when Hughes re-signed his former player in 2013.

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(Injured Bojan relaxes in the 1970’s with Spanish friends Muniesa and De Gea)

During a four month loan in Toon in 2011, Ireland managed to combine into his performances the desire of Michael Owen, the workrate of Hatem Ben Arfa and the intensity of Sammy Ameobi. His two appearances for us perhaps had a silver lining; he’s played 19 games for Stoke this season and not scored. His spell at NUFC could have been worse, he could have played more.

A Special Mention For?                               

Stoke City chief executive Tony Scholes said earlier this season;

“It is about finding a balance. We are talking about the Premier League, certainly one of the best leagues in the world, so you are getting top quality entertainment and that does come at a price, but it is about finding a balance.

“Our approach at Stoke is to try to find that balance, keep football as affordable as possible so that price is not a factor when people are deciding whether to go. Our priority is to get the best players in and ensure they perform the best they can to keep us in the Premier League.”

Well I can’t wait for this game, mediocre football at an affordable price. Watch out Lee Charnley, this fella is after your job.

Are We Going To Win?                

Last season the Potters finished in 9th place and on a strong run of form, especially at home, which has continued this season.

Their away form wasn’t so hot but it has improved this season and wins at Everton, Spurs and Man City has shown that they should fear no one.

As all teams this season are forced to play 4-2-3-1 because of an exclusive Premier League sponsorship deal for the Asian TV market, there won’t be much in it tactically though Stoke will have more height and power than us.

That doesn’t mean they will be dangerous from set pieces though, the Potters only scored twice from headers last season. They still play long ball, they just are not as good at it as they were under Tony Pulis.

With Arnautovic looking more comfortable on the left and Moses likely to fall over in the penalty area any time the wind gets above a gentle breeze, our defenders will have to be clever and patient but once we have the ball, we have nothing to fear today except ourselves.

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(Victor Moses generating his own wind to fall down by this season)

We can’t expect the Potters to implode as they did in last season’s 5-1 Christmas present and we probably won’t get a referee who was as bored as we were at their constant spoiling, fouling tactics.

After scoring a hat-trick last week Jonathan Walters said: “it wasn’t the prettiest of games.” Which just about sums Stoke City up this season. Even when you score a hat-trick you still feel sorry for the spectators.

Get behind the lads today, we may have to make our own entertainment.