Of all the grounds to travel to in the Premier League, the Britannia Stadium has to be one of the most intimating. Stoke City’s loyal, passionate and vocal fans are positioned close to the field in the compact 27,000 capacity arena, and opposition players can hear every catcall made at them and every roar of support in favour of the Potters.
On Monday night, Chelsea become the latest of the Premier League’s big boys to visit Staffordshire and, having seen Arsenal disposed of last time Hughes’ men played at home, they would be right to be wary of Stoke.
In the past Stoke City were famous for their no-nonsense style, strong defending and route one football. Under Tony Pulis, if the Potters took the lead then they invariably held on to it. Now, with Mark Hughes at the helm, things are slightly different.
For instance, when would the Stoke of old ever have allowed a 3-0 home lead to turn into a desperate battle for victory? That was the case against Arsenal and, had the Gunners not been reduced to ten men, Stoke may have had to settle for a point. As it was they survived with their lead intact, eventually winning 3-2.
Fans of in-play betting and users of the betfair sports app would previously have seen a Stoke side leading at home as a banker, and would have been wise to invest heavily, but these days nothing is certain.
Against Chelsea it would come as no surprise to see City take the lead (after all, they now play attractive, attacking football) but, given Chelsea’s outstanding record in the Premier League this season, and the wealth of talent at Mourinho’s disposal, it would take a brave punter to back them to hold that lead.
Stoke City are not far from being a very good side but, if they are to mount a genuine challenge for Europe, Hughes must build some defensive stability and put together a consistent run of results.