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The inside track on Stoke...

Posted on 7 September 2016  - 18:00

Our feature 'inside track' continues as Martin Spinks, Stoke City reporter for the Stoke Sentinel, gives us the lowdown on the men from the Potteries ahead of Saturday's Premier League encounter at the Bet 365 Stadium.

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Martin Spinks, Stoke Sentinel

martin_spinks200x250First of all, tell us about Stoke’s season so far - what have you made of the Premier League matches against Middlesbrough, City and Everton?
Martin:
"They drew the first game at Boro 1-1 and they would have settled for that beforehand against a newly-promoted team on a roll. Not least after losing 1-0 at the break and having their woodwork rattled a couple of times, but due credit for recovering and levelling through a brilliant Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick (more of the same more regularly please wee fella). They were hammered 4-1 at home by Manchester City in what will now be known as tug-gate after all the furore surrounding referee Mike Dean’s interpretation of the new rules at set-pieces. In fairness, his intervention might have influenced the scoreline, but not the result. And last time out at Everton it’s difficult to argue with Everton’s claim that they deserved victory on the balance of play and chances, but Stoke were rightly aggrieved at the penalty awarded by Michael Oliver to decide the match."

What has been the reaction to Stoke’s deadline day business - Bruno Martins Indi and particularly Wilfried Bony in on loan from City?
Martin: "There was justifiable apprehension entering the last day of trading, but the arrival of these two (albeit on loan) brightened the mood considerably. Bony promises to deliver the 10-15 league goals Stoke sorely need from a frontline striker, certainly if he remembers how he succeeded at Swansea once-upon-a-time, while Martins Indi promises to be a regular, sturdy partner for Ryan Shawcross in central defence. The loan signing of Lee Grant was also a significant indication of everyone’s concern in the goalkeeping department with Jack Butland out injured and 40 year-old Shay Given forgivably vulnerable to the odd tight hamstring etc. In fact, knowing Stoke’s current luck with injuries, Grant may turn out to be their most valuable signing of all."

Below: New arrival Bruno Martins Indi in action for Porto

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What are Stoke’s expectations this season?
Martin: "They’ve fluctuated with injuries, lack of signings, then signings. At the moment? We are probably hoping for another top-10 finish, preferably higher than ninth after finishing there for the last three seasons, but doing so with tightly crossed fingers until we see how the new signings pan out and the length of Butland’s absence. And like just about everyone else, we’re greedy for a cup final."

Below: Summer capture Joe Allen in action against City

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How do you think Mark Hughes will line-up on Saturday? Do you expect Bruno Martins Indi and Bony to start? Is our old mate ‘Crouchy’ in the frame?
Martin: "Yes, those two surely play, even though that would be harsh on Geoff Cameron after a couple of worthy displays alongside Shawcross at centre half. Martins Indi can play left back, too, and is comfortable in a back three, a system Hughes experimented with during pre-season, but it surely has to be centre half in a straightforward back four. Crouchy started at Everton, only his fifth Premier League start in a year, after scoring a hat-trick at Stevenage in the League Cup four days earlier, but didn’t have much joy at Goodison and surely makes way for Bony’s debut. So the team will be something like: Given, Bardsley, Pieters, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Whelan, Allen, Imbula, Walters, Arnautovic, Bony."

Below: Striker Wilfried Bony, snapped up on deadline day

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What are your thoughts on Spurs and how do you see Saturday’s match panning out?
Martin: "I feel some sympathy for them after last season. Ordinarily, and excluding Arsenal fans of course, the nation would have rallied behind such an English-influenced team playing such fine football in the closing month or so of last season. But because of Leicester’s historic and unprecedented ascent towards untold riches, they were suddenly everybody’s second team instead and Spurs almost became the bogey men. I just hope Mauricio Pochettino maintains his faith in young English players, for the benefit of the national team and in the hope that he might influence the approach of other overseas managers."