To say the next six weeks could make or break Stoke City’s season may seem like a bit of an exaggeration with just five matches played. But with the Potters going through a slump this time last year, they can ill afford to stutter.
Having won two of their opening four games of the 2013/14 campaign, picking up seven points from a possible 12, things looks rosy at the Britannia at the end of September last year.
But four defeats from their next five and their next win not coming until the latter part of November, City found themselves thrust into a relegation battle.
They scrapped to finish the season in style to climb to a ninth place finish, however another end of season battle is not what the fans want to see, with relegation priced up at 7/1.
Their start to this campaign has looked less impressive. While they are undoubtedly playing ‘nicer’ football under Mark Hughes than we had become accustomed to a Stoke side playing, they appear to be lacking that cutting edge to really put teams to the sword.
One win, albeit against Manchester City, is all they have to show for their efforts so far as they sit in 13th place.
The fixture list throws up five winnable matches for Sparky and co. in the coming weeks, and a decent return is necessary if they are to avoid having to look over their shoulder for the rest of the campaign.
Newcastle (h), Sunderland (a), Swansea (h), Southampton (a), West Ham (h) is what greets them in October and November, a quintet of games that yielded eight points last season, probably the minimum they will be after this time round.
One thing that could prevent them securing a top ten berth, priced at 2/1, for a second season running is their lack of clinical touch in front of goal.
Of their 37 attempts on goal, 35 per cent, a total of just 13 have hit the target. Compared to the likes of Newcastle and Burnley, the two sides currently propping up the table this is a worrying statistic.
Burnley may have only found the back of the net once this season, but they have tested goalkeepers four more times than Stoke, with 41 per cent of their total efforts.
The Magpies too have a much better shot accuracy record, with 43 per cent of 48 shots forcing opposition goalkeepers to make a save.
In fact only Crystal Palace have had less shots both on target and in general in the Premier League this season, however their accuracy percentage is up at an impressive 46 per cent.
With Barcelona loanee Bojan failing to hit the ground running, it has been left up to the likes of Peter Crouch and Mame Biram Diouf to pick up the pieces in the final third.
But should injury strike down any of their first choice front men things could look tricky for the Staffordshire side.
Pick up eight or nine points in their next five games, and mid-table obscurity will look well on its way, but any less and a return to the second tier could begin to look a real possibility.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing
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