STOKE CITY vs. WEST HAM MATCH PREVIEW

Seven days on from our convincing 3-0 victory over Stoke and I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth. Of all my talk of the Stoke team employing thuggish tactics, it was a report after the game that irked me. After the match, a group of  Stoke fans walked down Green Street looking for violence. In an absence of human morality these hooligans picked fights with anyone and everyone, including innocent fans trying to get home. There were reports that some parents with young children had to duck into Ken’s Café just to avoid confrontation.

It’s not fair to tar all Stoke fans with the same brush, though, as this was just a small minority of northern monkeys. Not all their fans are animals; they’re no Millwall.

There’s an old saying that dog owners eventually start to resemble their canines – maybe the same has happened with Stoke fans and their team’s style of play? That’s one explanation I guess…

Looking forward to this weekend and our match is live on ITV meaning I can enjoy the Hammers from the comfort of my own sofa for a change.

Avram Grant has been accused before (including on here) of being tactically out of his depth in the Premier League and this Cup match will be a good platform to test this theory. After our new-look West Ham team demolished Stoke last weekend, it’s my guess that Pullis will change tactics in a bid to avoid a similar result. How will Grant react to this, or should he react to this?

Personally I think a reaction isn’t necessary. Our starting 11 nearly picks itself right now and if we go into the game in the same mindset of our last two fixtures then we have enough quality to play Stoke off the field, regardless of their tactics.

Da Costa should keep his place not just because of his physical prowess, but for his solid performances

The problem Avram does face is whether or not he should rest key players. Scott Parker has barely missed a game all season but is in such good form that leaving him out could jeopardise the very fabric of the team. Demba Ba has been on fire since signing for us and he tore Stoke a new asshole last weekend but rumours of his ‘dodgy’ knee might mean he should be rested. Likewise Hitzlsperger has come into the team and made such a difference but he has put a lot of strain on his body so soon after returning from a long-term injury. And herein lies the balancing act; we need to field a team capable of winning this tie without risking league survival.

If a key player picks up an injury against Stoke and misses the Premier League run-in it would be a disaster. We need our best players fit and ready for the scrap that starts at Tottenham next week, but that doesn’t mean we should wrap them in cotton wool and leave them out against Stoke.

Beat Stoke and we’re in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Born in 1983 I have never been able to see my team play at the national stadium and I’m desperate for that day out. They also say that winning breeds confidence; a fourth straight win would see us travel to Tottenham feeling like we could beat anyone, so we’ve got to go for it. The last time we won four games in a row was during the great escape of 2007. Yeah the league is more important but we’re only two games from silverware.

As I said earlier we’ve nearly got a fully fit squad to choose from for this match and who can remember the last time we could say that? While I don’t want to see a weakened team, Grant has more options available to him than ever before and we’re in a position where we have other players who can come in a do the job.

My team would be as follows, with Ba and Cole working the wings. I’d also bring on Keane at some point and if we find ourselves with a few goals I’d withdraw Parker or Hitz.

Don’t be fooled by the ease with which we brushed them aside in the league, I think this will be a tough match that could go to a replay. We’re playing the best football we have for a couple of years though, and if the team and manager carry on as they have been in recent weeks then I’ll see you at Wembley.

My team against Stoke

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