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Michael Taylor 8th Nov 2010 - 14:49

Stoke can bully Birmingham into submission

Tony Pulis feels referees have been against Stoke City this season so much so he's been talking about a relegation system for officials - on Tuesday night he'll be more concerned with ensuring his own team's top flight survival though.

Birmingham City are the latest visitors to the Britannia and while it may not draw the biggest Sky Sports audience of the season it could be a fiery affair.

Stoke, so often lambasted for their physical play, are struggling to come to terms with a host of decisions going against them and plummeted down to fourth bottom following the controversial defeat at Sunderland on Saturday.

It hasn't exactly been plain sailing for McCleish's Blues either, lingering a meagre two points from the drop zone in a sophomore Premier League season that's so far not sprung into life, however positives can be taken from an inspired comeback against West Ham this past weekend.

When Valon Behrami smashed home the Hammers' second few gave Birmingham any chance of clawing something back in the final 30 minutes, yet their never say die attitude saw them draw level within just 15 minutes.

In the end the only disappointment was an ability to find a winner but for a club that had only managed ten goals in ten games, it came as a welcome relief for the St Andrew's faithful.

The journey to Stoke might not be quite as easy to stomach for Birmingham though, especially if Pulis' moaning has achieved the desired effect of handing the home side a key psychological advantage.

The Potters were robbed of a penalty and Lee Catermole should have been sent off at Sunderland but they've got to move on and more importantly they have to score goals.

Kenwyne Jones has shown flashes of his talent since moving to the midlands, Tuncay has been rejuvenated yet they're not finding the net regularly enough with six in five home games not getting the job done.

Defensively they're fine with Huth and Shawcross rock solid in the middle however a big lack of creativity is the key issue.

In the past Stoke scored goals by bullying the opposition - they need to get back to this here.

Pumping balls into the box might not be pretty but what does it matter if it gets the job done? Especially when they're coming up against a Birmingham defence that specialises in stifling virtually every style of attack.

Kenwyne Jones is a giant in every sense of the word while Shawcross, Faye, Collins et al are threats at every set piece - McCleish's side might defend admirably, I'm just not sure they'll be able to deal with a pumped up 90 minute onslaught.

And if the man in the middle Mark Clattenberg has any fear of letting the Potters down then you have to feel for the travellers.

It all points towards a scrappy, passionate display and although I rate Liam Ridgewell and Roger Johnson as top quality defenders I think they'll struggle against Stoke's sheer size.

It won't be pretty but the 17/2 about a 2-0 Stoke win could make it a great spectacle while 23/20 for the home win is a great looking bet.

The best market though has to be this week's 'Match Winner' where we're offering a very special 5/2 about there being a headed goal in the game.

Everybody hates stereotypes, but if you realistically believe there won't be a healthy serving of route one on a cold Tuesday night then you're a bigger optimist than me.

Tonnes of crosses, set pieces and long throws will give players every chance to get on the end of something, so I'm using my head and getting on the headers market.

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