Spurs v Stoke: Pulis’ boys are Pottering along but Ken they find a cutting edge?
Notoriously rugged and aggressive, Stoke have a reputation for being solid and unspectacular – and that probably sums up their season so far as well.
Goals have been at a premium at both ends. The Potters have kept it tight at the back and have the best defensive record in the Premier League, having conceded just 13 goals.
However, they have also struggled to register at the other end and have the joint-worst strike-rate in the top flight with 15 goals – the same as QPR and Aston Villa.
The result is an average set of results – eight draws including four goalless stalemates – and a ninth-placed berth in mid-table mediocrity.
“We’ve had chances in all of the games but we haven’t put the ball in the back of the net,” said manager Tony Pulis after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Everton at the Britannia Stadium. “That’s been the story of the season.”
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Ricardo Fuller scored 50 goals for Stoke between 2006 and 2012 but the 33-year-old departed for Charlton in the summer.
The former Spurs man Peter Crouch initially picked up where he left off, scoring five goals in five games in August and September.
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However, he has failed to find the net since then as has recently been restricted to substitute appearances after losing three teeth in a nasty collision with Newcastle’s Fabricio Coloccini.
“I thought I was going to end up looking like Joe Jordan!” said Crouch, who now wears a gumshield. “I’m sure it will look very fetching. It’s a good job I’m married, otherwise I’d be struggling!”
The injury-prone Michael Owen has been unable to lend a hand in the front line after signing for Stoke in the summer and, having made just four appearances for his current club, the 33-year-old’s latest setback has sidelined him since October 27.
That has forced Pulis to rely on Kenwyne Jones, who finally found the net against Everton on Saturday, heading home to record his first goal in 28 league games.
“We gave Kenwyne another run,” said Pulis. “Peter’s been injured from when he had a smack in the mouth, and he did well.
“When he scored the goal he livened up and that was maybe a bit of confidence that he’s been lacking. It was a well-taken goal.”
Stoke now boast a 15-match unbeaten run at home – a sequence which extends back to February.
That record will mean little at the Lane, but the Potters have also been tough to beat on the road, gaining draws at Reading, Wigan, Liverpool, West Ham and Aston Villa and recently overcoming West Brom at The Hawthorns.
A combative midfield was boosted by the signings of Blackburn’s Steven Nzonzi and Wolves’ Michael Kightly – and Pulis also swooped to take Charlie Adam from Liverpool for �5million as he remoulded the spine of his team.
Adam is sure to be an unpopular visitor at the Lane, and Gareth Bale will certainly not be pleased to see his nemesis if, as expected, he makes his return from a hamstring injury against City.
Adam has injured Bale on two occasions during his time with Blackpool and Liverpool respectively – first ending the Welshman’s season in 2011 and then tripping him from behind in a pre-season meeting in America in July.
That prompted Bale to call Adam “a coward”, but the pair then met in international action in October, without incident – and everyone at the Lane will be hoping for a similar outcome this time.
Adam is likely to line up behind the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Nzonzi and Glenn Whelan patrolling in front of the back four and Matthew Etherington and Jonathan Walters out wide.
Stoke’s defenders are powerful in the air in both boxes, and 27-year-old American summer signing Geoff Cameron is now playing at left-back alongside Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross and Andy Wilkinson.
The verdict: Spurs know what to expect. If they can keep Stoke pinned in their own half and avoid conceding set pieces, they should extend their winning run at home – 1-0 again.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs