It might be a little too early to start talking about relegation ‘six pointers’ but there is no doubting that this is a must win game for both Stoke and West Brom and not simply because of where the two teams currently find themselves in the Premier League table.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes is undoubtedly under pressure as his side slip closer and closer to the bottom three, it has been three straight defeats for the Potters and should that become number four then it would see them move into the drop zone.
But victory for West Brom is something that is far easier said than done as this team has not won in their last 16 Premier League matches, the same length of run that Manchester City have managed to earn in terms of successive victories.
When you compare the two records it just highlights the stark reality of just how poor a run the Baggies have been under since the middle of August. A season that started with such optimism especially after picking up seven points from a possible nine.
Since then it has been a slow slide into the bottom three rather than a sudden plummet but ultimately a bad run of that magnitude will get you in the end as the Premier League table does not lie, while it comes as no coincidence that the two teams with the longest run without a win are in the bottom three (West Brom and Newcastle)
Stoke are just about keeping their heads above water at the moment but Mark Hughes is in danger of sinking as fan pressure begins to mount after a string of poor results. The former Wales boss will be boosted by the support of Peter Coates in the week but just how much could those words prove to be a poisoned chalice?
Last weekend their third defeat in a row came at home to West Ham in a game that was delayed by an hour due to a power cut, Mark Hughes probably had the feeling that he wishes that it was postponed indefinitely after another abject display by his players.
Stoke have the worst defensive record in the Premier League this season conceding 39 goals in their first 18 matches of the season, that is over 2 goals a game on average and the kind of defensive frailties that more often than not lead to relegation.
That is something that Stoke are going to have to fix and soon. Whether that be in the form of defensive reinforcements or perhaps in the shape of a new man at the helm remains to be seen but ultimately they need to get a win on the board.
The same win on the board message is undoubtedly something that West Brom will be looking for also, last week they were beaten by Manchester United at The Hawthorns in a game where they only really came alive after going 2-0 down.
Alan Pardew’s players looked like they played with the shackles on in the early stages and only when the game had got away from them did they finally step things up a notch. Gareth Barry may well have halved the deficit but ultimately it was too little to late for the Baggies. A sentence that has been written too many times this season.
Both teams are playing with the fear of must not lose at the moment but it seems to be having a negative effect when really they should be playing on the front foot and taking the game to their opponents. One of these two sides is going to have to take the initiative this afternoon.
All runs are there to be broken eventually and Alan Pardew will be identifying this game as the one in which West Brom’s barren run without a win finally comes to an end. Truth be told I fancy an away win later today as the Baggies heap more misery on Mark Hughes’ men.
Here is what social media thinks will happen – you can still vote on the outcome
— Dan Tracey (@dantracey1983) December 21, 2017