Here we are ladies and gentleman. Today is the day. All the cliches have already been said a hundred times, and now it's time to do the actual thing. This week, before the biggest game of the season we caught up with James Whittaker of ESPN Soccernet Stoke to give us his perspective on the match. In several hours we'll know how this story ends, but before then give what James has to say a read...Given the fact that you've lost to QPR twice this season, and for some reason Stoke fans seem to have a special dislike for QPR, how would you feel about losing on Sunday if it meant sending them down?
JW: I've had this discussion with a few Stokies and the consensus seems to be that we would ‘accept' a loss in our game if it meant that arsey Sparky and his band of mercenaries are consigned to the Championship. I think the model of foreign owners coming in, splashing the cash irresponsibly, sacking perfectly good managers, paying stupid money on wages is something the game can do without. The fact that Barton and Hughes would be devastated only add more justification to accept a loss.
Speaking of the loss to QPR, Stoke seemed rather listless in that match. Was it a case of the Potters not caring enough or QPR just wanting it more?
JW: I'm on a major downer with the manager at the moment and that loss was typical of the mistakes he has been making for months if not years. We have a striker up front who hasn't scored in 5 months, and two who would add much needed pace/urgency ordinarily sat on the bench stuck out on the wings for this game meaning 5 players in total were out of position. Add to that the substitutions on 75 mins to protect the point and you can start to see why many Stoke fans are starting to lose patience.
Last time we spoke, I asked you what went so well for you in your 5-0 win over us at Wembley, so it only seems fitting considering that our last match had the same scoreline, going in the other direction that I ask you: what went so wrong for you that match?
JW: The match came on the back of a gruelling trip/game in Tel Aviv the Thursday before so the manager had little to no time on the training pitch to prepare. That said, he was also without our Captain Shawcross and played the hapless and inept Woodgate as well as three players out of position once more, so the writing was on the wall before a ball was kicked.
The season is 90 minutes from it's close. How's it been for Stoke City? Did it reach your expectations? What are your goals for the next season?
JW: I think the season should be split into Europe and Domestic - for the former I would give it 8.5/10, an amazing European adventure, the likes of which I have never experienced and to get into the last 32 ending with a trip to Valencia was a magnificent achievement. The League however is a different story, I'd give that 3/10 (and that's being generous) - given we spent £20m in the Summer the style seems to have regressed and we sit bottom of every attacking stats table going. Crouch is a great player but just doesn't suit our system, Pulis also seemed to get scared and only start one winger and the whole Woodgate experiment at the expense of our Player of the Year was for me unforgiveable. In terms of next season, you may or may not have seen my article suggesting Pulis needs to change drastically or leave - I think that pretty much sums up what I'd like to see happen!
And finally, could I have a prediction for the match? Who do you think will go down?
JW: I actually think we are likely to win it, perhaps 2-1 with your goal coming late on, but as I say, I would take a loss in this game to focus the manager on what is wrong (one can hope) and to send QPR down.
Thanks again to James for chatting with us. Be sure to check out his excellent site for the Stokie side of things. And for one final time before kick off, Come On You White Men!