The spectre of relegation looms large over the Britannia Stadium as Stoke City play host to Wolves in the English Premier League on Tuesday.
Players of either club will need little more motivation than the Staffordshire derby to rise for the clash, but the opportunity to greatly bolster their clubs’ respective survival bids adds further importance to the match.
Despite winning their way into the FA Cup final on May 15 where they will face Manchester City, 14th-placed Stoke’s seesawing league form has ensured they are not completely safe from the threat of the drop.
Tony Pulis’ men have struggled to put any sort of consistent run together for much of the season, as evidenced by their two wins, five losses and three draws from their past 10 league games.
Consistent results have been something 19th-placed Wolves have also lacked, with promising performances against some of the competition’s more esteemed sides seldom backed up by results.
Wolves are winless since March 19’s 1-0 victory at Aston Villa, and they desperately need points if they are to avoid toppling back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
Mick McCarthy’s side appeared odds-on to earn a breakthrough win at Fulham on Saturday, only for Andy Johnson to cancel out Steven Fletcher’s 22nd-minute opener with 10 minutes remaining.
Wolves will know that a win will pull them clear of the bottom three, just as Stoke – five points and goal difference ahead of their Tuesday opponents – are aware that a loss will draw them ever nearer to the trapdoor.
Ricardo Fuller – scorer of four goals this season – is in serious doubt for Stoke after injuring his Achilles in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Villa.
The Jamaican’s place in the squad will likely be taken by fellow striker John Carew, who was ineligible for Saturday’s encounter as part of his loan agreement from parent club Villa.
Towering defender Abdoulaye Faye returned to the squad for the Villa game after a hamstring injury and could make his return, though Mamady Sidibe (Achilles) and Danny Higginbotham (knee) will miss.
Stephen Ward should continue in place of hamstring George Elokobi in Wolves’ defence, while Sylvan Ebanks-Blake is pushing for a starting role after making a return as a substitute against Fulham following his own hamstring ailment.
Forward Kevin Doyle remains a long-term absentee, though Ireland colleague Stephen Hunt is nearing a return after making a speedy recovery from his hernia operation.
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