The Local Lowdown: Stoke City


We asked opposition expert Peter Smith, Stoke City reporter for Stoke-on-Trent Live, to preview Saturday's encounter from the visitors’ point of view...

Stoke had a big win over Plymouth last weekend to move four points clear of the drop zone with two games to play. Is that the Potters safe, having hit the 50-point mark?

Well, we've been doing all the permutations then having a stiff drink, reading it back and doing the permutations all over again. The one thing we can say with certainty is that it was a huge step in the right direction.

If Birmingham or Sheffield Wednesday lose either of their two matches, that's it. If Stoke get one more win then that's it. And there are about a dozen other ifs, buts and maybes too. It's been a long old difficult season and it's not quite over yet, but everyone is sleeping a little bit more easily this week than last.

It was a significant victory for Steven Schumacher personally, having left Argyle for Stoke midway through the season. What sort of impact has he made at the club?

That's right, it was a significant day for Schumacher against the club where he had launched his managerial career. To be honest, he's overseen seven wins now and each one has felt like a big moment, a crucial result.

Steven Schumacher celebrated a big win over former club Plymouth last weekend

He had pretty much only been used to winning at Plymouth and this was a big challenge to take on: a squad that had largely been assembled in one frenetic summer transfer window, imbalanced particularly when there have been a couple of key players out, with the threat of relegation hovering overhead and a lot of eyes and scrutiny on how he was going to do.

He's made compromises to the way he would love to play to pull the team out of a losing spiral that took hold through January and February, and he must have learned a lot in just four months. The bottom line was to make sure Stoke stay up and he's almost there.

What have been the contributing factors to Stoke’s season of struggle, and are there reasons to be optimistic for the future under the new regime?

Take a quick look at the league table or top scorers chart: a lack of goals without being able to rely on clean sheets. No one has scored more goals for Stoke since January last year than right-back Ki-Jana Hoever, on loan from Wolves, with eight. You're not going to get very far if your top-scoring centre-forward only has three this season.

Last summer was unique. The squad had been stripped back entirely to make the most out of coming through the toughest constraints of Financial Fair Play and there was a major rebuild. This summer will have more of a platform to build on and, as well as a new head coach, there is a lot of faith in Jon Walters, who has returned to Stoke as sporting director. Everyone knows how important it will be to get recruitment right.

There are some talented young players, including youth graduates Sol Sidibe, Emre Tezgel and Nathan Lowe plus first teamers Bae Junho and Wouter Burger.

"A lovely footballer" - Stoke's South Korean winger Bae Junho in full flight

Which players have stood out, and who should Saints be keeping an eye on?

Bae Junho is only 20 and his season started in March last year when he had games for South Korea Under-20s. He played pretty much a full domestic season in South Korea before joining Stoke in August and has been involved pretty much all campaign in the Championship, becoming an increasingly important player along the way. \

His basic stats of five assists and two goals don’t do him justice. He’s a lovely footballer, dynamic and destined for big things.

How do you see Stoke approaching the game at St Mary’s and how do you see it playing out?

It'll be really interesting to see how Schumacher sees the best way to get a result. He's been prepared to change his team depending on whether it is a more physical or footballing test and he'll be tempted not to throw too much up in the air after a strong performance and result last weekend.

They set a high bar against Plymouth with energy and enthusiasm, never mind anything else, and that will be the message again. They're not going to win the pass count but they can make the most of the possession they have. They will have to defend with discipline and take chances that they create.

It was a close contest in the reverse fixture back in October but Stoke will be expecting a tough examination. I'll predict a 1-1 draw and I'm sure most Stokies heading down south for this one would take that.