BY SUYASH BAPAT
Stoke City host Derby County on Saturday with a push for playoff positions looking highly unlikely.
The Potters find themselves in 11th in the Championship with 49 points, 12 behind Reading in 6th.
They go into this game on the back of a subdued performance midweek against Cardiff that ended in a goalless draw.
Manager Michael O’Neill is content with his side’s efforts but has urged his players to be clinical in the final third.
He said, “At this point in time we’ve asked the players to make sure their application and attitude is right to the game, I don’t question that one bit.
“But we just have to be more ruthless. Too often we have come out on the wrong side of a fine margin, and we’ve not been ruthless enough.”
Their opponents Derby travel to the bet365 Stadium languishing in 19th, 8 points clear of the relegation places.
Derby boss Wayne Rooney is aware of the problems Stoke pose and is expecting a difficult test.
He said, “Stoke are a good team, with good players and are hard to break down. We have to play on the front foot and take the game to them.
“We have to be aware that they have a lot of threats who can score goals, so we have to get the balance right.”
The hosts are facing an injury crisis this season and will be without as many as five players for this home game. Morgan Fox, Nathan Collins, Sam Clucas, James McClean and Tyrese Campbell have all been ruled out ahead of the weekend.
The visitors will be without Krystian Bielik, who is out for the season with an ACL injury and defender Curtis Davies who has been ruled out on account of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Striker Colin Kazim-Richards remains a doubt, as he was taken off in the midweek game Brentford with a hip and knee problem. Striker Lee Gregory, on loan at Derby from Stoke will be watching from the stands as his side take on his parent club.
The Potters don’t have a particularly good record against Derby, having failed to win in their previous four fixtures. The last meeting between the two sides was in keeping with that, as it ended in a goalless draw at Pride Park Stadium.
With the Championship heading towards the close, Stoke can use this fixture as a chance to plan ahead for next year.
Derby will make the short trip across the midlands, knowing a win could go a long way to securing their survival.