Stoke City Analysis and Opinion

After an impressive one nil victory last time out away at Bristol City, Gary Rowett and his Stoke City side will now look ahead to another difficult Championship fixture, this time against high flying Middlesbrough.

Here’s everything you need to know from this week’s pre-match press conference.

TEAM NEWS

Having still not featured since securing his move on Deadline Day, Potters fans have been eagerly awaiting news regarding when Sam Clucas will finally make his debut for the club.

It may still not be clear just yet, but Rowett was on hand to give us an update on how the midfielder’s training has been going recently.

He said;

“Sam has trained really well this week and the big decision is whether we thrust him back in without a massive volume of training, or are we slightly more patient to build that resilience.”
“He is chomping at the bit and has looked good in training, but we want to make sure he is fit to go for the rest of the season.”
“What we don’t want is to have him in too quickly and then have even more time out.”

Elsewhere, midfielder Peter Etebo has returned to regular training this week and is set to rejoin the matchday squad after missing the last three games due to his involvement during the international break.

FINDING CONSISTENCY

Consistency has been hard to come by in the Championship for the Potters this season, with the team struggling to be able to string together a run of results.

However, after his side’s impressive victory away at Ashton Gate last weekend, Rowett believes that they are starting to turn things around.

“I think we’ve started to show a lot more over the last ten games.”
“We have got things we’d like to improve on like speed of attacking and the number of chances created, but we have shown a side to our game where we can win away from home.”
“These results give us confidence but the kind of game we’ve got coming up on Saturday at home will be difficult because they are resolute and don’t give much space away, so we have to show a greater attacking berth.”

ON MIDDLESBROUGH

Saturday’s opponents travel to The bet365 Stadium unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions, knowing that a win could send them back to the top of the table. Rowett was on hand to give us an insight into what sort of game to expect.

“Up until recently they had only conceded something like six goals, so every team has found them difficult to break down.”
“They don’t score too many, but they don’t have too when they’re so resolute. They also have good players including many with Premier League experience and Tony is a very good manager.”
“They will try and be physical with us and we have to match that and with endeavour, but also use our own philosophy to cause them problems.”

FINDING A WAY THROUGH

Having conceded just eight league goals in fifteen games so far this season, breaking down a strong defensive unit like Middlesbrough’s will be no mean feat.

And having faced strong Tony Pulis sides multiple times in the past, Rowett shared his thoughts about how they could be broken down.

“You either try to be very forceful and go away from your philosophy, or you have to be a little bit patient against him.”
“If you want to keep probing against a side like that and they limit space, then there’s time when you’re going to have to keep the ball moving and work hard to open space up.”
“We have worked all week on ways of breaking them down, but it’s probably the hardest part of the game and you hope your attacking players come up with a bit of magic in the final third.”
“When they’re in the final third that’s where they earn their money and we will try and give them the freedom to do that.”

A FAMILIAR FACE

Saturday will see former Stoke manager Tony Pulis return to The bet365 Stadium for the first time since September 2016, when his then West Brom side snatched a late point in the Potteries.

Still a popular figure with home faithful, Rowett was asked whether he thinks Pulis’ return will have any impact on proceedings.

“I would imagine Tony will get a decent response from the fans because he’s been a massive and successful part of this club.”
“He’s always been good to me whenever I’ve come across him, but I know you are always keen to go back and get one over your own club because you’re so competitive.”
“Our fans have already shown that they will make a noise and get behind the team – and we need a performance to make sure they stay behind the team.”