April 09, 2015

Say it softly, but Stoke are turning on the style.

The Premier League club synonymous with crunching tackles, Route One football and a casual disregard for any beautiful elements of the game swept aside Manchester City in their last outing.

Now they have their sights set on beating West Ham United on their last visit to the Boleyn Ground before the Hammers move to Olympic Stadium next season.

The Potters (6-4-5) comprehensively outplayed Manchester City last weekend in their 2-0 victory and while their overall form has been inconsistent, it was another step forward on manager Mark Hughes' road away from the more physical style of former boss Tony Pulis.

"It was the level of performance we'd hoped we were capable of on more than just one occasion to be honest," Hughes said. "We hit a level that was really satisfying.

"We felt for quite some time that that was the capability of the team. We changed personnel somewhat and maybe that gave us the spark, the catalyst to really hit those heights."

Dropping City from the league's top spot adds to a burgeoning list of scalps under Hughes that includes topping champions Chelsea, a win at Southampton and a comprehensive outplaying of Liverpool in a 6-1 win to end last season.

Hughes added of the City performance: "The challenge is to replicate it on a consistent basis."

The recruitment by Hughes of mercurial talents like Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic is at odds with prototype that has bought the Potters eight unbroken seasons in the top flight.

That new-found flair has not gone unnoticed by West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic, whose injury-hit side will look to extend the gap over their rivals to four points as they push for a return to the Europa League.

The gradual transitioning in approach for Stoke has been successful enough for them to lead the self-styled 'Academy of Football' in passes completed this season (4,671-4,342).

"They played really good against Man City, but not only against Man City," Bilic told the official club website. "Recently, for example, their away win against Southampton was really good, then against Chelsea, then last week against Man City.

"A few of their moves, especially in the first half, were top-class football which doesn't surprise me because up front they have top quality players and top quality internationals."

West Ham (6-5-4) will be missing six players after defender Winston Reid became the latest player hurt, picking up an hamstring injury during training this week. The volume of injuries blighting West Ham has prompted Bilic to switch the club's training sessions to Rush Green because of the poor pitch conditions at Chadwell Heath.

Reid joins Dimitri Payet (ankle), Diafra Sakho and Manuel Lanzini (both thigh) on the sidelines. The Hammers will also be missing forward Victor Moses (hamstring), while Enner Valencia is doubtful.

The Potters will be without striker Peter Crouch (hamstring) and goalkeeper Shay Given (knee).

The sides drew both meetings last season. Aaron Cresswell scored after seven minutes at Upton Park in April, and West Ham led the rest of the way before Arnautovic equalised in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time.

West Ham came from two goals down to draw Stoke at the Britannia in November with Valencia and Stewart Downing scoring in the last half-hour. Moses and Mame Diouf had given the Potters a two-goal advantage.

Stoke are unbeaten in the last four league meetings between the sides (2-2-0) and have avoided defeat in each of their last three matches at Upton Park, winning once and drawing twice. West Ham's last home win over Stoke was 3-0 in March 2011.

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