Fight to the finish – how Stoke City shape up to relegation rivals in five key areas


Incredibly, just nine points now cover the bottom nine clubs in the Championship, from Reading in 16th on 42 points down through Hull, Charlton, Huddersfield, Stoke City, Middlesbrough, Wigan and Barnsley to Luton Town in last place on 33.

So high time we checked the runners and riders as all nine desperately try to avoid finishing in the bottom three.

We’ve looked at five potentially crucial aspects for a pointer towards which clubs are  hot and which are not…

MANAGERS

Reading – Mark Bowen: A familiar face in these parts after serving under Mark Hughes, this is his first job and the unpopularity greeting his appointment is in danger of returning after a poor trot of results.

Hull City – Grant McCann: Cut his teeth at Peterborough and Doncaster before his biggest task of all at Hull this season, a task made all the greater by the January loss of key players Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicky.

Charlton – Lee Bowyer: Hugely popular among his fans and that can count for so much when unity is required towards the business end of the season.

Huddersfield – Danny Cowley: A monumental success at Lincoln, he answered Huddersfield’s call last September to avoid back-to-back relegations and has largely relied on physicality to secure survival, but the jury is still out on this one.

STOKE CITY – Michael O’Neill: Took over from the disastrous appointment of Nathan Jones and Stoke would be far closer to the top three, not the bottom six, had his record been replicated over the season.

Middlesbrough – Jonathan Woodgate: Former Stoke defender took over from Tony Pulis last summer and the pressure has been on from day one of his first managerial job, but will hope his Boro heritage will buy some goodwill from the fans as the heat intensifies at The Riverside.

Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate

Wigan – Paul Cook: If his voice holds out, he might just pilot his club to an unlikely escape because he has his players wound up and pulling off some magnificent results of late.

Barnsley – Gerhard Struber: The 43 year-old Austrian arrived as an unknown quantity in mid-November, but 25 points from a possible 57, given they were bottom when he took over, is a pretty decent return that has left oxygen in their lungs.

Luton – Graeme Jones: The long-term successor to Nathan Jones, his reputation was forged as a coach before taking his first managerial role at Kenilworth Road and enduring a baptism of fire before a recent revival fanned the flames of belief once again heading into this weekend’s clash with Stoke.

GOALSCORER IN FORM?

Reading: George Puscas: Two in his last three outings and nine for the season so far.

Hull City: Tom Eaves: With 22 league goals disappearing with the January exits of Bowen and Grosicky, it falls to this guy with just five to his name.

Charlton: Lyle Taylor: He has 11 in 15 league starts and five sub appearances, so clearly missed him when injured earlier this season.

A familiar sight for Charlton fans as Lyle Taylor celebrates another goal
A familiar sight for Charlton fans as Lyle Taylor celebrates another goal

Huddersfield: Karlan Grant: Without his 14 league goals in 32 outings his club would be in an even sorrier state.

STOKE CITY: Tyrese Campbell: It’s a big ask of the youngster, but he appears to have the ability and mentality to make a difference.

Middlesbrough: Britt Assombalonga. Has hit a brick wall in front of goal because the last of his six strikes was 10 games ago.

Wigan: Kieffer Moore: The big fella scored his sixth goal at Reading this week and the burden falls on him after Chey Dunkley’s long-term injury in the same game.

Barnsley: Cauley Woodrow: His winner at Hull this week was his 14th in the league, remarkable given his team’s struggles this term.

Luton Town: James Collins: Has double figures for the season, but only one in eight heading into this weekend’s clash with Stoke.

GOAL DIFFERENCE

This is the invisible point, because goal difference can be worth an extra point at the end of the season.

So who is likely to  benefit as things stand? Take your pick from the current goal difference table among our nine clubs.

0 Reading

-5 Charlton

-6 Hull City

-10 STOKE CITY

-11 Middlesbrough

-13 Wigan

-15 Huddersfield

-16 Barnsley

-28 Luton

Stoke City’s Joe Allen is lifted up by his team-mates after scoring his side’s third goal of the game in the 3-0 win at home to Luton

FORM TABLE (last 5 games)

This table says everything.

Just look at the top three, the three clubs who are currently in the bottom three of the actual league table.

We all thought they might get cut adrift, not so long ago, but all three have burst back into life to condense the nether regions of the Championship table.

Stoke are above Huddersfield in the form table on goal difference, while you don’t have to look too hard to see that Middlesbrough and Hull are dropping like a stone, while Reading are also entitled to be looking over their shoulder.

Barnsley: DLWWW (10pts)

Luton Town: LWWLW (9pts)

Wigan LDDWW (8pts)

STOKE CITY WLLWD (7pts)

Huddersfield WLDLW (7pts)

Charlton: LWLWL (6pts)

Reading DLWLL (4pts)

Hull City DLDLL (2pts)

Middlesbrough LDLLL (1pt)

NEXT 5 FIXTURES (six-pointers in capitals)

Stoke have the most six-pointers in the next five games – all five games are actually six pointers as things stand.

Barnsley have the fewest with Reading away this weekend their only game against anyone in the current bottom nine.

Reading: BARNSLEY (h), Birmingham (a), STOKE CITY (h) , Derby (a), Brentford (h)

Hull City: Leeds (h), STOKE CITY (a) , CHARLTON (h), Birmingham (a( MIDDLESBROUGH (h)

Charlton: HUDDERSFIELD (a), MIDDLESBROUGH (h), HULL (a), Queens Park Rangers (h), Cardiff (a)

Huddersfield: CHARLTON (h), Leeds (a), WIGAN (h), Notts Forest (a), Birmingham (a)

STOKE CITY: LUTON (a), HULL (h), READING (a), MIDDLESBROUGH (h), WIGAN (a)

Middlesbrough: Notts Forest (h), CHARLTON (a), Swansea (h), STOKE CITY (a) , HULL (a)

Wigan: West Brom (a), LUTON (h), HUDDERSFIELD (a), Blackburn (h), STOKE CITY (h)

Barnsley: READING (a) Cardiff (h), Queens Park Rangers (a), Millwall (h), Blackburn (h)

Luton Town: STOKE CITY (h) , WIGAN (a), Preston (h), Swansea (a), Leeds (a)





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