As much as I'm opposed to speaking with Stoke fans post the match-that-must-not-be-named, I have gone against my morals, just for you guys. Dedication. Anyway, this week to bring you the enemy's perspective, we had a chat with James Whittaker, the Stoke correspondent for ESPN Soccernet. We chatted about Stoke's homesickness, lethal set plays, and of course that match. So go on, have a read to get yourself mentally warmed up for today's clash.This season, Stoke have scored off 75% of their set pieces, the highest percentage in the league. What has made your set pieces so lethal?
JW: I think the stat is actually we have scored 75% of our goals from set pieces! (Ed Note: he is quite right, clearly I wrote these questions in a rush!) Sadly it's an illustration of how we're struggling to create meaningful chances from open play, which many are putting down to an unsettled defence, two wingers off form and an isolated Crouch. Once the manager gets Huth back in the middle of defence that will be the basis of us starting to look a bit more like normal, we actually scored quite a few from open play last season, we just need to start doing it again and as well as a settled defence a big part of that is the wingers both being fully fit which we've not had the luxury of ironically since our last meeting at Wembley.
Overall Stoke has been having a fairly good season, but away form has left something to be desired. In the last 3 league away matches, Stoke have conceded 9 goals and only got 1 back. What about the Britannia makes it easier to get results? Do you see that changing on Sunday?
JW: I think it can be put down to a few things, the Britannia is a very hostile stadium which the team love playing at, similarly the opposition tend to not enjoy the experience. Another factor is that the pitch is the smallest in the league which helps us keep our shape more easily and also assist with the throw ins. The main reason though is that the manager has a problem when he sets up for away games, at home we go for the win, away from home, we protect the point, though once we go behind show little adventure so rarely get back into the game. This cautious approach away from home has been evident since we got promoted and has shown little sign of changing and is absolutely the biggest bug bear for fans at the moment.
While it doesn't take a lot to worry the Bolton defense these days, which Stoke player do you see causing the most trouble?
JW: I don't think the Bolton defence should worry too much about chances from open play, which seems ironic given we scored 5 goals against you at Wembley! It will be the test you will get from set pieces and how well organised you are, your keeper will play a big part and I know that is an area of concern for you at the moment. I'm hoping Jones will play instead of Crouch, and if he does he will cause you problems with his pace and strength, sadly if we start with Crouch he will be much more isolated due to his lack of mobility unless he gets players around him which we've not done so far away from home so I'm not holding my breath.
Bolton's 5-0 loss to Stoke at Wembley remains one of the most traumatising matches I've ever watched, and seems to have served as a catalyst for a larger collapse of the club. What went so right for Stoke that day, and what went so wrong for Bolton?
JW: As you can imagine, it was my best ever match! We had found a winning formula in the preceding months and were able to stick with a settled side with a great Walters/Jones partnership and most importantly both wingers fit and on fire. We also did our homework on how much play went through Davies and made sure that he was tightly marshalled, that and an early goal gave us the momentum to push on to a record breaking win.
Finally do you have a prediction for the day?
JW: It all depends who is fit on the day, hopefully those who travelled back from Israel late Friday aren't too leggy. As I've said, there is a lot of unrest around our away performances and, no disrespect to Bolton, this is one we should absolutely go out and be confident of winning. I'm going to buck my recent pessimism and go for an assured 2-0 win to the Potters.