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Rupert Wyman 12th Feb 2010 - 17:23

The Pulis Smash and Grab

Mancini will take a step closer to his first piece of silverware as Manchester City manager, if they beat Stoke at home in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday.

The vast investment pumped into Manchester City by its Abu-Dhabi based owners means that there is added pressure on Mancini to land City's first trophy in thirty four years.  City rivals Manchester United ended City's hope of a Carling Cup trophy with a 4-3 aggregate win in the semi-final to deny them their first Wembley Cup final since 1981.

Manchester City and Stoke will both believe that the trophy is in reach because United, Liverpool and Arsenal are no longer in the draw.

Stoke have consolidated a mid-table league position after winning promotion on the last day of the 2007-08 season.  They have now established themselves, with the signings of several established Premier League players, most notably Robert Huth and Tuncay Sanli from Middlesbrough.

Manchester City must comprehend that it was a spirited performance from Stoke that ended Arsenal's run in this year's FA Cup, at the Brittania Stadium.

Tony Pulis' Stoke are unbeaten in seven matches, since a surprise home loss to Birmingham in December last year.

Although Stoke are away this weekend, they can still put in a gutsy performance with their passionate and loyal fan base behind them. However, Stoke have only won one away game in the league all season. That day, they hit Tottenham with a Pulis special, he employed a 'Smash and Grab' tactic, stealing a 1-0 victory at the finale on the break.

Mancini played some more than adequate fringe players in their 4-2 win at Scunthorpe in the fourth round, but against a resilient Stoke, they will field a full strength side.

Adam Johnson is cup-tied for Manchester City, he played and impressed for Boro in Manchester City's 1-0 third-round win at the Riverside. So, Martin Petrov or Shaun Wright-Phillips should be recalled to the first team.  Fit again Joleon Lescott, may start in place of Kompany. Bellamy has a problem with his knee and is unlikely to participate.

Fuller may start for Stoke after he was relegated to the bench midweek following the allegations of assault brought against him after a late night out last weekend. Faye may be ready to return to the team after missing the last few matches with a back problem.

On paper this match appears to be a home win, City are unbeaten at Eastlands all season. That said, I perceive Stoke to be a ball winning side that can challenge and win the 50/50 battles.

They will upset Manchester City like they did Arsenal in the Cup last round and with this being a cup game, I would back the value 2-2 score draw at 16/1.

With Fuller recalled, Stoke have the potential to score goals from set pieces or on the break.

The Blues will play mainly down the wings, trying to expose the Stoke defence through the pace of Wright-Phillips.

For a small flutter, I would back Glenn Whelan to score at anytime at 7/1, the Irish international was released from the Blues in 2004 and will want to prove a point against his former employer.

Mancini will be hoping the Blues skill and creativity will endeavour, but Pulis' Stoke are no longer just football's cannon fodder.



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