Never in the history of the Premier League have a team made so little go so far as Stoke City, but as they prepare to welcome Swansea City on Saturday, it is intriguing to ask whether the Potters are currently sleep-walking into trouble under the radar of most observers.
Few pundits predicted a season of struggle for Tony Pulis’ men when relegation was discussed before the start of the season and they don’t seem to be getting much of a mention now thanks to the obvious troubles of Reading, Southampton and Norwich, who remain most people’s favourites for the drop.
But a closer inspection of Stoke’s form, both recent and over their entire stay in the Premier League, suggests that the club could well be sucked into the relegation issue when people least expect it.
Pulis must be credited for the way he has gone about keeping Stoke in the top flight since winning promotion from the Championship in 2008, because he seems to have done so using some sort of voodoo technique, where smoke and mirrors and the dark arts are somehow responsible for garnering points where they shouldn’t really come from.
Even with race horse trainer Michael Owen on board, Stoke have scored just four goals in five games this season, yet have managed to turn that into four points.
Stoke’s away record is pitiful and has been throughout the four-and-a-bit years since they re-joined the top division: 13 wins in 79 trips puts so much strain on their form at the Britannia Stadium, where they have had a strong enough record to stave off the threat of relegation.
But quite how remains a mystery when you look at their goalscoring statistics. The Potters have scored 38, 34, 46 and 36 goals in their years in the Premier League, but averaging a goal a game or less has not yet seen them in real danger of the drop.
That surely can’t go on without the danger of slipping through the trap door to the Championship becoming real and as Swansea visit the Britannia on Saturday, Stoke are in a rut they need to quickly get out of. You will get a price of 17/20 on a home win, with the draw at 23/10 and the Swans chalked up at 17/5, and in truth all those prices leave me a bit cold.
I can’t have Stoke at odds-on given their form. Pulis is currently presiding over a run of just one league win in 16 games and that was at home to relegated Wolves last term. Ten of those games have finished all square, which sums up Stoke: difficult to play against, but not enough going forward.
Even with race horse trainer Michael Owen on board, Stoke have scored just four goals in five games this season, yet have managed to turn that into four points. That run of 16 games has seen the Potters score only 13 goals and with stats like that, 17/20 on a home win is too short.
But I’m not falling over myself to back Swansea, either. The Jack Army made hard work of League One Crawley in the Capital One Cup and their performance at home to Everton last time out was worrying in the extreme. It’s not as if the Swans are renowned for being good on their travels, either: a 5-0 opening day win at QPR was a freak result and the Swans lost 11 on the road last season, more than anyone bar the aforementioned Rangers.
And it is for that reason that I am siding with the draw at 23/10. Neither side particularly convince me and the reverse fixture could end up being a relegation dog-fight come the tail end of the season. With the amount of drawn games involving Stoke over recent months it has to be the sensible shout, as does the 5/1 the game finishes 1-1, which has been the score in seven of Stoke’s last 16 games.
Recommended bet: Stoke and Swansea to draw @ 23/10
Outside Punt: Stoke and Swansea to draw 1-1 @ 5/1
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