The away fixture at the Britannia Stadium is often considered the bellwether of any team’s ambitions. It’s a really tough place to go and this season under Mark Hughes the Potters have been transformed into an attractive outfit – welcome to the era of ‘Stoke-Alona’.
Against Man City they looked like world-beaters with Shaqiri pulling the strings and the big Austrian Arnautovic firing home the bullets. But, as Kevin Day quite rightly pointed out during the Palace Podcast this week, we will not be set up like City and hopefully we will defend a lot better.
As our away record is second to none, other than Arsenal in 2015, we should not fear the likes of Stoke and as we are perfectly set up as a counter-attacking force there is every reason to approach the game with a degree of confidence. In our last away game Against Everton we proved a tough nut to crack and even though the Toffees had been scoring goals for fun they did rattle the woodwork a few times but only scored once late on after Scott Dann had scored his customary goal on Merseyside.
There is currently a burning question over where the goals might come from and, as we are only a week away from Christmas, it is odd/ surreal to consider that no Palace striker has scored in the league. Yet we stand sixth after 16 matches. Connor Wickham has been great at leading the line and it looks like that first goal may not be too far away now but when you have a player with the class of Yohan Cabaye, the lack of a goal-scoring centre forward is less important than it may be imagined.
At the other end of the pitch both Dann and Damien Delaney have been rock solid and the back four is looking stronger and more mature than at any time under Pardew. Then of course comes the unique position of the goalkeeper, with Wayne Hennessey seemingly establishing himself as the clear No.1 for now and possibly for many years to come. He has produced a series of saves in the last few matches that have simply been world-class and he looks as though he has the trust of the defenders in front of him, which is a fundamental building block.
Richard Foster is a freelance football writer and author, who is a regular features contributor for The Guardian. He also writes for Sabotage Times and a variety of Palace blogs and fanzines.
The revised paperback edition of his latest book The Agony & The Ecstasy – A Comprehensive History of the Football League Play-Offs – is out now and available through usual bookshops, online & via Ockley Books – http://bit.ly/1SKsnfc.
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