Stoke’s dream of a top-half finish to be sabotaged on the final stretch

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Stoke are considered such top-half certainties that they are priced at 1/9 to see the job through, but there are several reasons to expect them to drop out over the final four matchdays.

The first is that they didn’t rank above halfway in any of their five completed Premier League campaigns, despite spending time in the ascendancy after Christmas in the last four of those.

Entwined with that trend is the fact that they are yet to master the art of the sprint finish.

They didn’t win any of their final three in 2012/13 nor their concluding six fixtures in 2011/12, closed with two defeats to plummet from eighth to 13th in 2010/11 and took five points from 18 at the end of 2009/10 to trade 10th place in for 11th.

Don’t be fooled by the theory that Stoke have an easy run-in. They face none of the top five, but it is far more significant that they meet none of the seventh-to-15th gang – ideal opposition at this stage due to their lack of incentive.

Instead, the Potters play three teams fighting for their Premier League existence – Cardiff, Fulham and West Brom – and a Spurs side that have fired eight goals in two games, and whose manager, Tim Sherwood, is eager to prove that his future lies at this level.

The other factors that could scupper Mark Hughes’ men are the remarkable form of Crystal Palace, who are on a five-match winning streak, West Ham and Hull’s superior goal differences, and the FA Cup finalists’ game in hand.

It all suggests that 9/2 is too huge a price to miss on Stoke signing off in the bottom half for a sixth straight season.

Cardiff, who shut Peter Crouch and pals out at the Britannia Stadium and invigorated their survival bid with victory at Southampton last time out, are 6/4 to start the Potters’ descent by beating them in the Welsh capital.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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