Blues Face Stoke Looking to Turn Positive Performances into a Win
Friday, 15th Feb 2019 13:00
Town boss Paul Lambert believes the Blues can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Championship at present and says his side go into Saturday’s game against his old club Stoke full of confidence after their performances against Norwich and Derby.
Although the Blues, victors only three times this season and 10 points plus goal difference from safety at the bottom of the Championship, were eventually beaten 3-0 by the Canaries, they were on top for long spells against the side then topping the table, then ought to have taken more than a point from Wednesday's 1-1 home draw with the Rams.
With the Blues having been given yesterday off after the Derby match and concentrating on training today, there was no pre-match press conference with Lambert looking ahead to Stoke following Wednesday's match.
“I’ve never gone into any game in my life thinking I’m going to lose or I’m going to draw,” Lambert said when asked if he felt his team could stand up to anyone in the division at present. “I always say I can win, regardless of what it is.
“As I said before, I had a half-decent career myself as a footballer and as a manager I must be close to about 600 games, whatever it is.
“And I’ve been at the highest level, low level, never been an egotistic guy, but I’ve got a great inner desire to try and win.
"And the support we’ve got, when you’ve got that behind you it’s a powerful thing. If there’s a fight and it’s still mathematically possible, absolutely.”
He added: “I was proud of the team on Sunday, OK we lost but we went there and arguably were the better team. [Norwich] scored at the right moments, things happen.
“You can’t always predict a result but what you can try and influence is being on the front foot and we play really high tempo football if we can and anybody coming here, we have to make it really difficult, and that’s what’s happened [against Derby].
“There’s a lot of confidence here, we’ve got a lot of confidence, nobody’s sitting in the dressing room or around the training ground down, there’s a lot of confidence.
“You don’t play like that normally when you’re at the bottom of the table, there’s a lot of anxiety trying to get that win.
“But the level of performance, honestly, I’m really proud of them. I can’t ask for any more.”
Lambert, who was in charge at the bet365 Stadium during the second half of last season, says Town probably didn’t deserve to lose 2-0 there earlier in the season: “We were very good that day. There’s a different management team there now [Nathan Jones has took over following Gary Rowett’s departure].
“I’ve a lot of time for the club. Obviously Gordon Banks dying is really sad and my condolences go to them because I met Gordon a couple of times and he was really nice.
“The football club’s a really good club, the ownership of the club, Mr Coates, I’ve got so much time for and even the supporters, I got a really nice reception up there when I was back. But we’re playing well, and we can win. That’s the good thing.”
Having been relegated at the end of last season, Stoke still have a squad featuring plenty of players with Premier League experience.
“I know the club and I know most things about it,” Lambert continued. “Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri] obviously went, a couple of other lads but there are still a lot of the lads there that were there when I was there.
"They’ve brought in one or two of their own, spent a lot of money in January.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for the club, really good ownership there and they’ll know they’re in for a hard game coming here.”
Despite the strength of their squad, the Potters are languishing in 17th position and have gone four matches without a goal, losing three and drawing one.
They have won just once in their last nine Championship matches and exited the FA Cup to League One Shrewsbury after a 3-2 replay defeat at home.
Lambert wasn’t sure whether skipper Luke Chambers (foot), James Collins (hamstring) or Cole Skuse (illness) would be ready to return against the Potters.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We have to wait. Luke’s is a strange one. The swelling went down before the Norwich game, we took a chance and it went back up again and we don’t know.
“James Collins the same, we don’t know. Cole Skuse, maybe one or two days before the illness is away, so we have to wait and see.
“But the lads, the ones that played on Wednesday night, were excellent. You look at the team, Teddy Bishop came through the academy, Myles Kenlock, Flynn Downes came through, Andre Dozzell came through, there’s so much goodness here with the young lads, there really, really is and the club will benefit from those lads being around.”
The fitness situation with the three senior players who missed the Derby match will dictate how much Lambert’s team changes from the side which performed so well against the Rams.
Bartosz Bialkowski, who looked more his old self and was wearing the skipper's armband on Wednesday, will be in goal with Chambers and Collins at the centre of the defence if they’re fit. Matthew Pennington and Jonas Knudsen will continue if they’re not.
The Dane would probably move out to left-back if not required at the centre of the defence with Kenlock otherwise keeping his place. James Bree will be at right-back.
If over the illness which has affected a number of players, Skuse could return in the deeper midfield role, although Trevoh Chalobah impressed in that role against Derby.
Lambert has to decide whether to give Bishop is first back-to-back starts of the season with Wednesday’s goalscorer Jon Nolan perhaps returning to the XI. Flynn Downes seems likely to continue, if he's over the effects of the illness which forced him off against Derby, as does Alan Judge, increasingly the heartbeat of the Town team.
Up front, the Blues manager seems certain to stick with January loan signings Will Keane and Collin Quaner.
Stoke boss Jones, who left Luton for the Potters in January, says he wants his team to build on Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Wigan.
“We worked so, so hard at Wigan during the week, right from the front to the back,” he told the Stoke official site.
“To a man, their tenacity and aggression in chasing the ball down was fantastic and it was the first clean sheet since I have been here, which was nice for me to get.
“Even though I have built a reputation for my teams being fluent and free-flowing, my teams have boasted the best defensive record in the league pretty much every season.
“So it was really pleasing for the lads to defend really well pretty much from the first minute to the very last.
“We weathered what they threw at us early on but then we dominated the game and really should have won the game.
“But look, it was really pleasing to get that on Wednesday and we have to build upon that now this weekend, because defending well gives you the platform to win matches, which is what we will soon start to do.”
Stoke have a doubt over right-back Tom Edwards, who was forced off with a head injury during the draw with the Latics. The England U20 international is set for further scans and assessment before a decision is made on whether he will be involved against the Blues.
Veteran midfielder Charlie Adam is fit again after a calf problem but may not make an immediate return to the starting line-up after a month out.
Historically, results have been close with Stoke having won 29 (25 in the league) games between the sides, Town 28 (26) and 20 (18) having ended in draws.
At the bet365 Stadium in December, a goal in each half from Tom Ince and Joe Allen saw Stoke to a 2-0 victory over the Blues.
Ince’s injury time goal was harsh on Town after an evenly-balanced first half and Allen sealed the three points for the home side on the hour.
The teams last met at Portman Road in January 2008 when Town extended their home league unbeaten run to 18 matches as Stoke City battled their way to a 1-1 draw.
Danny Haynes put the Blues in front on 18 with former Town loanee Ricardo Fuller netting the equaliser 14 minutes later.
Blues boss Paul Lambert’s record during his short spell at Stoke reads played 16, won two, drawn seven, lost seven. No current member of either squad has played for Saturday’s opposition.
Saturday’s referee is Scott Duncan from Northumberland, who has shown 82 yellow cards and seven red in 24 games so far this season.
Duncan’s last Town game was the 1-0 home victory over Wigan in December in which he cautioned Chambers, Chalobah and Jordan Roberts as well as two Latics.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 2-0 defeat at Derby in August in which he booked Skuse and Toto Nsiala as well as two Rams.
He also refereed the 1-0 pre-season friendly victory at the MK Dons and the 1-0 win at Preston in February in which he yellow-carded Skuse, Martyn Waghorn, Garner and one Lilywhite.
Duncan, who shares a name with a former Town manager, was also in control of the Blues’ visit to Pride Park last season when, during the 1-0 win, he booked Chambers, Adam Webster and Downes as well as three Rams.
Before that he was the man in the middle for the 1-1 home draw with Brentford in March last year in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.
Duncan also refereed the 3-0 away win at Charlton in November 2015 in which he booked two Addicks and no Blues.
He also took control of the Blues in the 4-1 after-extra-time win at Doncaster in the Capital One Cup in August of the same year in which he cautioned Kenlock and two home players, and was also the man in the middle of the 1-1 home draw with Brentford the previous season and the November 2013 1-0 victory over Charlton at The Valley.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Bree, Spence, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Elder, Pennington, Knudsen, Chambers (c), Collins, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Keane, Quaner, Harrison, Jackson.
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