The Inside Track: Stoke City

By SFC Media Thu 18 May Saints vs Stoke
Photo by Reuters

Get the lowdown on our final day opponents Stoke City from Stoke Sentinel sports reporter Martin Spinks...

What is the mood like and what have people made of Stoke’s season overall?

Now there’s a question. The outside world might wonder what all the fuss is about as Stoke are mid-table and were never in any real danger at the wrong end of the table.

But there’s no doubt they have failed to reach the standards set in recent years and defeat against Saints would leave them with their lowest points total in their nine seasons in the Premier League.

Their decline stretches back deep into last season and the lack of any real X-Factor moments amid the defeats, plus early exits from both cups, has left very little to get excited about and plenty to get worried about.

How important is it that Stoke end the season with a win?

Important statistically because it would avoid that lowest points total and possibly their lowest finish ever as well.

But in truth, a win, however it comes, won’t cure all the ills concerning everyone in and around the club, merely provide some light relief heading into a very important summer.

Who would you pick as Stoke’s key men ahead of this one?

Marko Arnautovic (if fit) and Xherdan Shaqiri are always potential game changers on their day, Peter Crouch has recovered something of his old goalscoring mojo this year (if picked) and Jack Butland’s goalkeeping will no doubt be put to the test this weekend in his fifth comeback game.

Should he get a rare chance of late, watch out for a young Egyptian winger called Ramadan Sobhi whose spirit is just what this team needs to shake it up.

Since the 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture, have there been any notable style changes from Mark Hughes?

He’s used three at the back a time or two, but essentially remains a four-man defence manager.

He’s been forced to go more direct more often than he would have liked because of the team’s failings, a recent and significant home win over Hull being a notable case in point, while their only decent spell against Arsenal last week came when Crouch was thrown on and they finally got balls and bodies into the penalty area.

This is a team that wants to play football still, but is winning far too few points going down that route right now.

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