It’s time for cool heads in the heat of the Championship relegation battle as nine teams are trying to claw their way to safety.
Can Stoke City ease some of the tension with a positive result at Luton today? And how many points will be needed to stay up? Joining us on our fans’ panel this week are CHRIS DROSDZOWSKI, from Reading; MATT DALGARNO, from Basford; and MATT MORRIS, from Fenton.
WHAT’S YOUR TEAM?
Chris Drosdzowski: With the worst goal difference in the Championship, I want to see an attacking line-up.
If Ryan Shawcross is fit then obviously he starts, although for such a crucial game I’d prefer the experience of James Chester over young Nathan Collins.
The rest of the starting eleven from the Blackburn Rovers game I agree with, but Nick Powell has to be given that licence to thrill.
My XI: Butland, Smith, Batth, Shawcross/Chester, Martins Indi, Allen, Clucas, Ince, Thompson, Powell, Campbell.
Matt Dalgarno: A third game in a week is going to be a tough ask for some of the players, but we’re pretty threadbare at the moment.
I hope Collins has done enough to keep his place in the team, the only change I’d be tempted to make would be to start Vokes and move Campbell to left and Powell back into the middle where he’s more of a threat.
My team: Butland, Smith, Batth, Collins, Martins Indi, Allen, Clucas, Campbell, Powell, Ince, Vokes.
Matt Morris: Butland; Smith, Collins, Chester, BMI; Thompson, Clucas, Allen; Powell, Ince, Campbell.
The only change I’d make is bringing Chester in for Batth.
Collins on Wednesday was unsurprisingly excellent and while Batth last two games has been better, I still worry when he’s on the pitch, he’s had a really poor season.
I think the battle of the Collins’ (Nathan v James) will be key to winning this one and Chester is far more comfortable with the ball.
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?
Chris Drosdzowski: As I alluded to, Luton have a porous defence and can certainly be got at by teams who have a go at them.
Tyrese Campbell has looked dangerous in every game he has played for The Potters, and if the midfield can get him on the run his pace will frighten the opposition.
This must of course be matched by the more miserly defending we have seen against the two Welsh clubs, Swansea and Cardiff.
If both of these things click into place I can see Stoke taking the game 2-0 to give a little bit of breathing space between us and the bottom three.
Matt Dalgarno: Luton 1, Stoke 3. I’m confident that we will go and get the win we need, I don’t think it’ll be easy, but it will all hinge on the first goal.
We will see more of the ball than we did at Blackburn and it will be up to us to force the issue. Campbell to bag a brace and Powell to score the other.
Matt Morris: We’ll keep up the good momentum with a 3-1 win.
Make your prediction: Luton Town v Stoke City
0+ VOTES SO FAR
ANY OTHER BUSINESS?
Chris Drosdzowski: There are eight other teams, all the way up to Reading embroiled in this ‘relegation dogfight’.
Stoke City are playing six of those in the next six games, so this period could not be more crucial.
Now is not the time for dilly-dallying, so confident decision making alongside hard work is the way the team can play their way out of it.
The return of James McClean and the aforementioned Shawcross epitomise diligence and determination, so like most other fans I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can come through this relatively unscathed and start to think about a more positive year next season under the impressive Michael O’Neill.
Matt Dalgarno: I’m pleased with the response in the last two games since the QPR collapse.
Back-to-back clean sheets will breed confidence and they were against teams in form as well. I thought we were brilliantly set up at Blackburn.
We restricted their space in our defensive third and isolated their in-form striker.
To me, that shows we can go on the road and pick up points during this run in and while it won’t always be pretty we’ve shown we can be resilient when needed.
The fixtures over the next month look favourable on paper, unfortunately, we’re an inconsistent side and we’re going to have to do something we’ve not been able to do this season, go on an unbeaten run, if we want to finally pull clear of the bottom three.
That has to carry on at Luton. I don’t think this is necessarily a ‘must win’ game, its more of a ‘must not lose’ game in my opinion.
Any points away from home are welcome, but it’ll be our home form and results that decide our fate.
Matt Morris: Well, this is the do or die part of our season.
All the games up until Leeds should all be targeted wins and with a weird twist of fate, all the bottom nine playing each other in about 75 per cent of the games left, gaps will start to open in the next month or so; it’s imperative we’re on the right side of it.
I still think 48 points will see you safe… just.
Fifty-plus definitely will, so if we can win three or four in the next six Championship matches, I think we can start breathing a little easier.
Us fans need it after this season.