February 11, 2016

Stoke City have been blanked in four straight Premier League games for the first time, and the last three have been ugly 3-0 defeats.

Mark Hughes' side face a tricky trip to the South Coast versus a Bournemouth side who will no doubt look to Benik Afobe to puncture the Potters' leaky defence.

Dreams of European football have been put to bed for Hughes' side thanks to this goalless run of 372 minutes. The four matches without a goal began innocently enough with a home draw against Arsenal on Jan. 17.

What has followed are defeats by identical 3-0 scorelines at Leicester City and Manchester United that preceded another last Saturday at home to Everton.

"In the league, the last three games we've gone up against Leicester away, Man United away, obviously difficult fixtures certainly this year anyway given the way Leicester have performed," Hughes said. "We weren't the first and we won't be the last by the time this seasons ends to go to Leicester and find it difficult to cope. That's been the case.

"The last home game, like I said after the game, we're still scratching our heads because we were down 3-0 at half-time and there weren't three goals between the teams."

Regardless of the explanation, Stoke are stuck on 33 points in 11th place, although they are safely ensconced 10 points above the drop.

Bournemouth are 15th on 28 points and saw a three-match unbeaten run end with Sunday's 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in which the Gunners scored goals 88 seconds apart in the first half with the hosts unable to respond.

"We were slow out the blocks today, which is unlike us," manager Eddie Howe said. "We gave them too much time on the ball and I think when you give players of that quality too much time on the ball they will punish you and that's what they did."

Afobe failed to fire against his former club after scoring in his previous three matches. He was brought in from Wolves to bolster an attack that has failed to ignite since Callum Wilson was lost for at least six months back in September with a ruptured knee ligament.

Wilson's five goals still lead the Cherries.

Matchday 25 in the Premier League saw four of the five sides below the Cherries pick up at least one point, although Howe insists he isn't concerned by that.

"From our perspective, as long as we are doing our bit, it doesn't really matter what they do, teams below us," Howe said.

Bournemouth are unlike many promoted sides seeking to scrap their way to safety. They have averaged 450.4 passes to rank above the league average and have committed the fourth-fewest fouls with 240.

"We know they're a hard-working side," Hughes said. "Their stats in terms of what they produce in every game are really high, some of the highest in the Premier League.

"First and foremost we're going to have to match that, make sure we're defensively sound and we create a little bit more. I think that's the frustration for us at the moment."

The addition of record signing Giannelli Imbula last weekend failed to stem the tide of Stoke's poor defensive play. The defensive midfielder came over from Porto for a reported £18.3 million.

The Potters agreed to a new deal this week with Bojan Krkic, who missed out last weekend. Marko Arnautovic has failed to add to his team-high seven goals in his last five matches.

Stoke won 2-1 over Bournemouth at the Brittania on Sept. 26. Substitute Mame Diouf struck for the winner in the 83rd minute and hasn't scored since.

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