With seven games to go in the Premier League, Stoke sit just five points adrift of the Champions League places and are on course to register their highest finish in the division for a second consecutive campaign.
Such dreams may need to be put on ice now though, as one of their key performers this season has suffered a cruelly-timed injury.
Jack Butland has been ruled out for the remainder of the term after he fractured his ankle in the friendly against Germany.
Emerging as a genuine heir to Joe Hart’s international gloves, the young goalkeeper’s injury gives Roy Hodgson a problem to solve. But that dilemma is nothing compared to the one faced by Mark Hughes.
The Potters boss is now left with a choice between campaigned veteran Shay Given or 23-year-old Dane Jakob Haugaard, who is yet to play for the club, as the England stopper’s replacement.
Whoever the Welshman picks, he is highly unlikely to receive the kind of production that Butland has offered this term.
No other keeper has made more saves than the 23-year-old through 31 games of the season, according to Whoscored. In becoming a reliable shot-stopper, the gloveman has had a large say in the points his team have collected.
Butland has had a major influence – by making five or more saves – in eight games this season. Stoke only lost one of those, a 2-0 slip against Arsenal back in September in which Butland made a whopping 10 stops.
In all of the other seven the Potters collected at least one point and on two occasions, they won. Add to that the three wins in four games where Butland made a quartet of saves and it’s clear that the Englishman has played a major part in Stoke’s success.
In the final stretch of the season, the Potters must play Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and West Ham. That run would likely have thrown up a test or two for Butland, let alone a 39-year-old that last played top-flight football over a year ago, or a keeper with just 44 senior starts in his career.
The absence of their number one keeper may ultimately curtail Stoke from reaching new heights this term. But it was fun while it lasted.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.