Stoke City manager Tony Pulis is telling anyone who will listen that poor referee decisions are the reason his team are languishing below fellow Premier League strugglers Birmingham City.
While he may have a point that striker Kenwynne Jones deserved a penalty in the 2-0 defeat against his old club Sunderland last Saturday, it would be papering over the cracks to suggest Stoke deserved to take anything away from the Stadium of Light.
Previously, Pulis was outraged that Tuncay Sanli’s ‘goal’ against Everton was struck off after the forward had clattered into the back of an Everton defender to reach the ball and poke it into the net.
Perhaps the true reason lies in the fact, that without the aerial bombardment of the penalty area which reaped great reward for two seasons, Stoke are too pedestrian around the pitch compared to most of their Premier League opponents.
It seemed Stoke had overcome their dreadful start to the season when they followed a victory against managerless Aston Villa with a draw against bottom of the league West Ham and back to back wins at Newcastle and at home to Blackburn.
But the Potters have now lost four consecutive Premier League games and lie seventeenth with 10 points from 11 games, just one point above second bottom Wolverhampton.
Alex McLeish expects a physical challenge but knows he has the players to cope should Stoke revert to type; his Birmingham side were one of four teams to take three points away from Vicarage Road last term.
Like Pulis with Stoke, McLeish surprised pundits by achieving a comfortable mid-table finish for Birmingham’s his first season back in the top flight, although this season is proving more difficult.
Birmingham are a meagre two points and two places better off than Stoke; they have picked up five points from their last three games but have yet to collect a league win away from St Andrews this season.
Stoke’s defence have been leaking goals at a higher rate than previous years and have been unable to keep a clean sheet at Vicarage Road this term.
With Birmingham having scored six times on the road, McLeish will see this as the perfect opportunity for an away win and Victor Chandler bet 14/5 for the Blues to win.
Pulis is forced into a defensive reshuffle after Ryan Shawcross was dismissed on Saturday and Robert Huth is expected to move across from right back.
Rory Delap returned to action following his calf injury when coming on after 74 minutes to adopt the famous long throw tactic against Sunderland.
He is likely to start from the bench again on Monday as Pulis is expected to go with Saturday’s midfield and forward lineup.
This means top scorer Kenwynne Jones will continue as the target man, Paddy Power bet 5/1 for Jones to add to his three Premier League goals this term with the first goal of the game.
McLeish hauled off the erratic Alexander Hleb in Birmingham’s 2-2 draw against West Ham at the weekend and the former Arsenal and Barcelona player may miss out on Monday.
Cameron Jerome was also substituted in that game but the striker will be hoping to start, he scored the only goal of this fixture last season and online bookmaker Extrabet offer odds of 3/1 for Jerome to score at anytime.
Possible starting lineups:
STOKE: Begovic, Wilkinson, Huth, Faye, Collins, Walters, Whitehead, Wilson, Etherington; Sanli, Jones.
BIRMINGHAM: Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Gardner, Beausejour; Jerome, Zigic