If there is ever a fixture to keep any unbridled enthusiasm in check it is Stoke away.
Indeed, so fearsome a reputation has the Britannia developed that it is now used as the yardstick for the worth of players new to the Premier League. As in, “but can he do it on a cold Tuesday at Stoke?”
Under Pulis, Stoke developed a shell of such well-worn obduracy that they became the epitome of mid-table security. Mark Hughes has instilled a little more creative flair to the ranks but they remain a tough nut to crack.
After last week’s straightforward and important victory against QPR this will be a completely different type of match. The strong showing from Bolasie and Zaha, especially in the first-half, gave the team a much-needed cutting edge but they cannot expect such compliant full-backs as the flustered Furlong and bamboozled Yun provided.
Pardew could be bold and play both again but he will be wary of going too gung-ho as points are still required to get closer to safety. So there may be a more pragmatic approach, opting for a more defensive line-up aimed at containment.
The aerial threat of Crouch is something that needs to be addressed, it is not pretty but it is effective so the need to not give away free-kicks within range of the penalty area is paramount and starving the service from out wide is a pre-requisite.
Dann and Delaney are building a good partnership and in many ways will relish the physical challenge that is bound to be posed by the Potters. This is just the sort of game that Jedinak would have excelled in so his absence through suspension adds to the responsibility of Ledley and McArthur in providing a firm base.
It looks as though both Zaha & Puncheon, who performed so well last weekend, are both out meaning this game will be a further test of our rapidly diminishing resources. There may not be many chances on offer so Glenn Murray will have to pack his shooting boots to capitalise on meagre rations. Overall a tough assignment at the best of times and should be another good indicator of Pardew’s ability to shuffle the pack and pluck out another ace.
Richard’s first book The A-Z of Football Hates is available at bookshops and online.
His second book on the history of the Play-Offs, The Agony and The Ecstasy will be out late April.
Follow him on twitter @rcfoster and @AZFootballHates