Hughes improvements to see Stoke hit new Premier League heights

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Stoke look nailed on for Premier League survival following their 3-1 win at home to West Ham, and after clambering up to 11th place in the table with eight games left to play, Mark Hughes’ men look eminently backable at 7/4 to finish in the top half come season’s end.

Former boss Tony Pulis’ best season in charge at the Britannia saw the Potters finish a place outside the top ten back in 2009/10, but they’ve shown palpable improvement during his fellow Welshman’s debut season in the hotseat.

The Staffordshire club’s campaign has been far from perfect, with Hughes overseeing separate six and eight-game winless spells in the league, but the renowned bruisers are beginning to incorporate touches of class into their largely long-ball tactics

Hughes signings Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic and Stephen Ireland – alongside Scottish stalwart Charlie Adam – have improved the Potters’ passing game considerably and their new-found guile was evident during the fluid build up to the former’s goal in the 2-2 draw at Southampton last month.

With his side 1-0 down at St Mary’s, centre-half Marc Muniesa – another Hughes capture on a season-long loan from Barcelona – brought the ball out of defence to feed Adam, who played in a perfect pass for Odemwingie to finish with aplomb.

Such intricate play was unheard of under Pulis, whose ‘Hoof It!’ philosophy can now be seen down south at Crystal Palace, and Hughes’ methods are beginning to bear fruit on a consistent basis.

The win over the Hammers means Stoke have avoided defeat in six of their last seven top-flight matches, with their one loss coming by a single goal away to 23/20 Premier League title favourites Manchester City.

During that run, Manchester United and Arsenal have left the Britannia with nothing but hard luck stories, and Stoke have now won more times at home this season than any other side outside the top six.

With the likes of Hull, Newcastle and Fulham still to visit the Potters’ patch before the campaign closes, plus the prospect of points from trips to Aston Villa, Cardiff and West Brom, Hughes looks bang on course to achieve in his first season something Pulis couldn’t manage in five.

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