15:00 GMT, Saturday 10th February, bet365 Stadium (Stoke, England)
Paul Lambert may have breathed a little fresh hope into Stoke during the last three matches, however, they yet to become upwardly mobile. The Potters remain stuck in the relegation zone but far from stranded due to how compact the bottom half of the table is this season. With only three points separating them from 12th-place, a win against Brighton will go a long way to help remedy this. Lambert has twice faced Brighton in League competition and twice lost to Chris Hughton’s side, however, this would be the ideal time for him to take his revenge.
Brighton too were a club looking troubled in the race for survival until a big win last weekend sent them soaring. This was only their second victory in 15 league attempts, both of which coming on home turf. Away from home the Seagulls continue to struggle, having picked up only two points and a solitary goal from their last seven trips in the Premier League. The history books offer little hope for Brighton either, having lost each of their previous five matches in Stoke, however, the motivation of lifting themselves six points clear of their rivals could prove a mighty incentive to send the Seagulls soaring once again.
Last time out
Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City (Premier League)
Paul Lambert suffered his first defeat since fully taking charge of the Potters as a good start was lost to poor finishing and fatigue. Stoke lined up for this match in a 4-3-3 which saw new signing Papa Alioune Ndiaye handed his debut on the South Coast. It took only five minutes for Stoke to break the deadlock through a rare Xherdan Shaqiri header that neatly finished a cross from Ndiaye.
While Stoke looked much more solid at the back than at many other points of this season, Erik Pieters needed to make a goal-line clearance at the end of the first half. The Cherries came into the match much more after the interval, however, some stoic defending led by Kurt Zouma looked as though they would have enough to record a needed win.
As some of the Stoke players appeared to tire midway through the second half, Bournemouth struck twice in less than 10 minutes to turn Stoke’s game upside down. With Bournemouth continuing to look the more likely to score in the closing minutes, Stoke were left with a familiar taste in their mouths at the final whistle.
Brighton 3-1 West Ham (Premier League)
A moment of magic from Jose Izquierdo set the Seagulls on course for all three points after they hit the Hammers with a fine performance. An early goal from Glenn Murray rewarded Brighton for the quick start as they made a concerted effort to attack the visiting side.
While West Ham went into half-time on level terms and made a bright start after the break, the Seagulls soon regained the initiative. Izquierdo’s bending shot from the corner of the penalty area found the top-right corner of the net and Brighton rarely looked back.
Anthony Knockaert’s energy was only let down by his wastefulness in front of goal and an inflammatory incident in the tunnel at half-time when he confronted Aaron Cresswell who had earlier fouled the winger.
There was also a welcome return to form for Pascal Groß who scored and provided an assist for his team, however, it was the collective performance which would have pleased Hughton far more than any particular individual as his team eased to a much-needed win.
Bruno Martins Indi (groin) and Darren Fletcher (knock) could miss out this weekend with late fitness tests required for both. Otherwise, Lambert will have a full squad to choose from, including Jese Rodriguez who has returned to training this week and could force his way back into the team. Mame Biram Diouf could also replace Peter Crouch in attack although the England striker is likely to remain in the team because of his aerial prowess and Brighton’s poor record at defending against set-pieces.
Izzy Brown (knee) and Steve Sidwell (back) will again be unavailable but new signing Jürgen Locadia will be in the matchday squad after shaking a hamstring niggle that has troubled him since his move last month. Having won convincingly against West Ham, Hughton could well opt to start with the same eleven although Solly March could replace Anthony Knockaert on the right wing.
Kurt Zouma (Stoke) vs Glenn Murray (Brighton)
Although Lambert appears to have gone some way to tightening up the Premier League’s weakest defence, last weekend proved they still have some improvements to be made. The Potters lost focus after Bournemouth equalised and gave away a soft goal which effectively lost them the game. Kurt Zouma was again one of their best players, despite falling over at an inopportune time. If Stoke are to take anything from this fixture, they will need him to once again lead by example and possibly score again as he did in the reverse fixture.
Scoring goals has long been a problem for Brighton this season but after signing Jürgen Locadia last month, Hughton has seen Murray once again step up his game. The 34-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down, rather the opposite. With a goal in each of his last three games and five from his previous seven, Murray is making it impossible to be overlooked in favour of the new signing.
Rodriguez rides again
News that Stoke had captured the loan signing of Jese from Paris Saint-Germain last summer sent a wave of excitement and surprise across the Premier League. A debut goal against Arsenal seemed to validate the expectations but like so many of Stoke’s other high-profile acquisitions, he has failed to live up to the billing.
Following a series of personal problems, Lambert confirmed this week that Jesé is once more back in the frame for the first team. Having proven his fitness is back to a satisfactory level with the Under-23 side on Monday, he could once more have an opportunity to fulfil his potential.
Slowly but surely
Consistency appears to be the name of the game for Chris Hughton. Having started this season with many of the faces who won his side promotion to the Premier League, he slowly integrated many of his new signings into the starting eleven throughout the course of the season so as not to lose the team spirit.
While his unadventurous style deployed in many of this season’s fixtures have also drawn ire, they have also served to provide a foundation to build from and give them a very realistic chance of survival.
While Brighton are yet to record back-to-back victories in the league, they’re also yet to go on a losing streak of any significant length, ensuring that they maintain morale and keep their points total slowly ticking upwards.
This pragmatic approach may not be sending pulses racing throughout neutral onlookers, however, it looks to be on course to allow Brighton to strengthen again this summer after avoiding the relegation which most expected them to suffer.
Stoke City 2-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
This match produced four goals in the reverse fixture and could again result in a similarly drawn result this weekend. While Stoke have shown flashes of a recovery, they will find Brighton a determined opposition who now have extra firepower to call upon if the game begins to slip away from them.