Following Pep Clotet leaving his position as Head Coach after the loss to Swansea on Wednesday, it was announced that Steve Spooner and Craig Gardner will take over for the game at the Bet365 stadium tomorrow.
Spooner who is the Club’s Senior Professional Development Coach and Gardner, the First Team Coach, will be hoping to end the teams eleven match winless run. Stoke, despite being thumped 5-0 by Leeds on Thursday, will be looking at the Blues fixture as their best chance of picking up points from their remaining four games, with the Potters sitting just one point above the relegation zone. Blues on the other hand remain on 49 points after three successive defeats, four above 22nd place Hull City.
A win for Stoke would see the Potters leapfrog Blues, something Spooner and Gardner will be desperately trying to avoid. Although a defeat would certainly put Blues firmly in a relegation battle with just three games remaining, the chance of a defensive display seems unlikely based on Steve Spooners comments in his press conference on Friday. Spooner instead said he will focus on addressing the lack of confidence in the side, and will give the team the chance to “express themselves and be creative”.
A replica of Blues’ victory over Stoke back in August would certainly be welcome. In a memorable game, where Jude Bellingham hit the winner on his home debut, Blues came from behind to beat the Potters 2-1. A victory tomorrow would leave Blues on 52 points and would go a long way to confirming safety from relegation to League One.
Last Time Out
In what turned out to be Pep Clotet’s last game in charge, Blues were defeated 3-1 by playoff chasing Swansea City. Despite Lukas Jutkiewicz netting his fourteenth of the season inside five minutes, Swansea quickly turned it around through Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster seven minutes later. Ben Cabango scored his first senior goal just before half time to put Swansea ahead and Jay Fulton turned in a corner to make it three.
Championship Form: DDLLL
Although Stoke held league leaders Leeds United at bay for 45 minutes before conceding a penalty that was converted by Mateusz Klich, four second half goals saw them slump to a disappointing 5-0 loss. The Potters performance will have disheartened Michael O’Neill, particularly after beating fellow Championship strugglers Barnsley 4-0 in their previous game.
Championship Form: DLLWL
The Blues will be boosted by no fresh injury concerns following the game against Swansea City. Long term absentee Josh McEachran will miss the rest of the season due to his knee injury.
Centre halves Ryan Shawcross and James Chester missed Thursday’s defeat against Leeds but could return to the squad tomorrow. Joe Allen, Tom Edwards and Thibaud Verlinden are all likely to miss the game.
One to Watch
Midfielder Sam Clucas has managed to register ten goals in the Championship this season, whilst also providing three assists. Clucas is The Potters top goal scorer and has been one of the brighter lights in an otherwise underwhelming second season in the Championship for Stoke.
Views From the Dugout
Speaking for the first time since taking over from Pep Clotet, Steve Spooner said he has tried to “tweak” a couple of things in the short space of time he has had with the Squad.
There are things that we felt we’d be better at as a team if we tweaked one or two things. It can’t be wholesale because we haven’t had the time.
Spooner also spoke about the importance of the players confidence in the final games of the season.
“Confidence is a massive thing and it is so important they get that belief back in themselves and in their teammates.
The temporary caretaker manager also suggested that it was down to him and Craig Gardner to “get that confidence back”, suggesting this lack of confidence may have been caused the amount of goals the team has conceded recently;
You’ve got to expect a lack of confidence after conceding 15 goals in the last five home games. We’ve got to try and address that.
Stoke City boss Michael O’neill spoke of how important the game tomorrow is for his side.
Really the Birmingham game was always going to be a hugely important game, as will the other three games
O’neill will be hoping for a reaction similar to the one his team put in after losing 3-0 to Wigan;
We got a good reaction after a poor performance against Barnsley and we have to hope we get a similar reaction against Birmingham.”
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC