Newcastle United-Stoke City Preview
Stoke City are hoping to continue their positive run of form Wednesday when the Potters welcome a rested Newcastle United to the Britannia Stadium.
Mark Hughes' side enter the midweek clash in ninth place on 39 points, trailing resurgent Chelsea on goal difference, but a victory would allow the club to leap into seventh place and continue a push for a Europa League spot.
The club are looking for their third consecutive win in league play following a 3-1 win over Bournemouth and a 2-1 triumph over bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa on Saturday, as Marko Arnautovic struck for both goals in a five-minute span of the second half.
The Potters (11-6-10) are facing United at a good time - they are unbeaten in their last four league meetings with the Magpies, winning two and drawing the last two. It matches their longest unbeaten Premier League run over Newcastle.
Hosting the match is also a significant advantage for Stoke as the last time the away team took three points between these sides was Newcastle with a 3-1 victory at the Britannia in October 2011.
Newcastle (6-6-14) also have had an extended break from Premier League competition, having been idle since a 5-1 thumping at the hands of defending champions Chelsea on Feb. 13., something Hughes believes could help his side.
"It might take them a little bit of time to get going or they may be really refreshed and raring to go, we just don't know," the manager told Stoke City Player on Tuesday afternoon. "We have always seemed to reap the benefits of a break away, so we will see how they shape up tomorrow. They are struggling for confidence and their away record isn't that good, but every game is hard in the Premier League and we have to make sure we are ready.
"We picked up a good result at the weekend to back up our Bournemouth performance so we are in a good place. It will be a test for us because Newcastle are fighting for their lives, and looking at their squad you sometimes wonder how and why they are where they are."
Steve McClaren's Tyneside club fell behind early against Chelsea as Diego Costa found the back of the net after five minutes and it went pear-shaped quickly. Only Andros Townsend's 90th-minute tally kept the Blues from earning the clean sheet.
The northeast club will have to overcome some major issues with their away form to get a result in a notoriously difficult venue. McLaren's men have just two victories and seven goals scored on their travels this season and are 3-3-20 in their last 26 in league play outside St James' Park.
Newcastle - 19th in the table on 24 points as they trail Sunderland on goal difference and Norwich City on goals scored - have also managed just one goal in their last four Premier League meetings with Stoke, a Jack Colback goal in a 1-1 draw in February 2015. They were shut out in the other three games, and their last victory against Stoke came in a 5-1 Boxing Day romp in 2013.
"We need to be harder to beat away from home," McClaren admitted. "Our away form has not been good enough. We have to start demonstrating the character needed to win these away games. It's a character flaw that we need to put right. Too many times things have gone against us away from home and we haven't reacted well and that's why we've lost.
"Tomorrow is going to be a great test for us. Stoke will be a very difficult game because they're a very good team with good players. I know (Marko) Arnautović well, (Xherdan) Shaqiri is scoring goals as well and (Ibrahim) Afellay is looking like a good acquisition, so they have a big threat. Given our away form most people probably don't expect us to get anything and we've got to go there and prove people wrong."
The sides played out a scoreless draw on Halloween, with Newcastle outshooting the Potters 15-9. Stoke hit the target with just two of those nine shots.