Everton welcome an out of sorts Stoke City to Goodison Park this weekend.
The Potters have struggled since the turn of the year and have just one league win to their name in 2013.
In January, Chelsea ended an impressive 18-game unbeaten home run for Tony Pulis’ men but the Staffordshire side are a different proposition away from the Britannia.
Their last away win and solitary victory on the road this campaign came in December against West Bromwich Albion.
evertonfc.com enlisted City reporter Martin Spinks, who covers the side for The Sentinel newspaper, to help preview Saturday evening’s match.
How would you summarise Stoke’s season so far?
It’s looking like a season of two halves. The first half climaxed with a stirring win over Liverpool on Boxing Day as part of a 10-match unbeaten run.
Stoke could do no wrong, it seemed. But since the turn of the year they’ve only beaten Reading in the league and lie bottom of the form table.
What would be considered a good finish for Stoke this term?
Staying out of the bottom three would be enough for the pessimists at their current rate of progress as goals (and chances) are at a premium.
The more optimistic are still hoping for a sudden turning of the corner and that coveted top-10 finish for the first time, but anywhere between about 12th and 16th seems the most likely.
Stoke have quite a distinct style of play, is that something the fans want to see change?
Just a bit! There is definitely a growing dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, because Stoke’s more direct style is producing neither results nor much entertainment right now. The fans appear to be turning their anger and frustration on the manager and the season can’t end quickly enough if we’re being honest.
A draw on Saturday would spark a public holiday in the Potteries! A Stoke victory and you’d better have oxygen tanks ready for the visiting fans.
We’re edging towards the end of the season, who do you think has been City’s player of the season?
There is no outstanding candidate as we speak, so it could be a toss up between Asmir Begovic, Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Steven Nzonzi and dark horse Geoff Cameron. It certainly won’t be that old Everton favourite Michael Owen.
How do you think Tony Pulis will set up his side at Goodison?
A 4-4-1-1 is the usual formula, with the players under orders to keep it tight and compact, deep but not too deep, and look for someone like Matthew Etherington to stretch the play when trying to catch Everton on the break.
They can also play more of a possession game, but whether they will have the time or the confidence to do that against a hungry Everton side on a tight Goodison playing surface is another matter.
Finally, a prediction?
Stoke have done better at Goodison than on most Premier League grounds (one win, one draw and two defeats) so stand by for a 0-0 and that public holiday back home in the Potteries.
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