It’s squeaky-bum time for every team in the Premier League’s bottom half and given Stoke City’s alarming slide towards relegation trouble, Tony Pulis will be more worried than most.
Yet his opposite number this weekend, Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert, would no doubt prefer to be in the Potters’ position having seen his side fall back into the bottom three following last Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool.
Despite a shocking run that has seen Pulis’ side pick up just five points in 2013, they remain four points clear of Villa in the drop zone but really can’t afford defeat in this true six-pointer at the Britannia Stadium.
A rare away victory would be even more welcome for a Villa team who have just seven games left to save their 101-year top-flight stay.
Although they are out of form, Stoke head into this crucial fixture as clear favourites at 21/20, with Villa 14/5 and a draw that really wouldn’t suit either chalked up at 21/10.
Matches where winning is everything tend to go one of two ways: either Stoke and Villa go all out for victory and it’s a game of over 3.5 goals at 13/5 or tension takes over and it finishes 0-0.
Given that the reverse fixture back in December finished exactly that way, a goalless game looks more likely at 27/4, but Stoke do have one critical factor that I believe will swing the result in their favour.
Big games call for big players and there quite literally aren’t many bigger than former England front man Peter Crouch.
Though he’s having a leaner season than usual, when Crouch scores Stoke don’t lose and against a team with whom he endured a disappointing two seasons at the start of his career, the former Villa striker will be fully fired up to get the opening goal at 5/1.
Having kept ten clean sheets in the Premier League this season, one goal might well be enough for Stoke against a side who’ve failed to score on 11 occasions (it’s 31/20 for Villa to draw another blank).
New customers using the free £20 bet they receive when registering with bwin would stand to claim a prize nearly as great as Premier League survival, with a ₤120 potential win for backing Crouch to grab the opener.
And after Arouna Kone and Andy Carroll did the business for me last week at similar prices (see previews here and here respectively for proof), I plan to break out into a robot dance if everyone’s favourite beanpole striker comes up trumps.