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stoke 2 1000x500Thursday night’s defeat against Chelsea brought to an end a superb run of five successive wins and now we are off to Stoke to try and kick start another winning run that will hopefully take our club into European competition next season.

We have four games remaining in this season’s Premier League and I find it incredible that I’m even writing about the potential to be playing in Europe. I couldn’t have been too confident of being this high in the league when it all kicked off last August. In my preview for the opening game at Chelsea I bemoaned the loss of Michael Keane and suggested he’d outgrown us and gone to a club who were closer than any other to breaking into the top six.

We all know what happened on that opening day; Chelsea got their revenge two nights ago and they deserved it but we have games remaining against teams that are nowhere near as good as Chelsea which gives us a really good chance of getting the points we need to finish seventh. As it stands right now, only three of the teams below us can pass us. Leicester and Newcastle could get to 56 points; Everton can reach 52 but have to play Newcastle. That’s it, so no matter what happens we are going to have a top half finish.

That’s incredible, but we want that seventh place so even if Leicester or Newcastle win all their remaining games, which is unlikely, we need only five more points and it would be nice to get the first three of them tomorrow although I do think it will be a tough game with Stoke fighting for their lives.

Even so, we’ve been more than good enough recently to win away games against relegation threatened sides West Ham and West Brom and we all know, if we hit anything like our best form, we are more than capable of coming back from Stoke with a positive result.

I’ve just watched Aron Gunnarsson score Cardiff’s winner against Nottingham Forest tonight. He’s only recently returned from injury and it has been a boost to have our Iceland international Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson back for our last two games. He’s made a big difference.

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He had injury problems in his first season at Turf Moor but this season he’d played in all but one of our games until he missed out recently at West Brom and Watford. His form has been a feature of our season and he said: “There’s a more relaxed feel about the group but we are still going out there with the same aim, to get the three points. We want to enjoy the last few games of the season. We have done an unbelievable job this season but we want to carry that on.”

He added: “It’s been going really well for me, playing most games and most minutes. Obviously the World Cup’s coming up so I want to be in the best form possible when that comes around.”

Looking forward to the Stoke game, he said: “Hopefully it’s going to be a cracking game with a good atmosphere, probably, because they need the fans behind them. As footballers we want to play in good games and Sunday will probably be one of them.

“We’re in great form, even though we lost on Thursday. We’ve shown some great performances over the last few games and we just want to crack on and end the season on a high note.”

Guðmundsson did take a knock in the Chelsea game but he’ll be fit to play tomorrow and Up the Clarets understands that James Tarkowski has also come through after early concerns over his fitness. With Scott Arfield and Ben Mee both ruled out again, I think it is very likely that we’ll have an unchanged team.

We will have one former Stokie on the bench in Phil Bardsley but whether Jon Walters, one of their favourites sons of recent years, will make it I don’t know. He has come through three under-23 games recently but hasn’t been considered for the first team. I know team selection can’t be based on sentiment but it would be nice if he were to get on the bench tomorrow.

I do think we will line up: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney, Jeff Hendrick, Georges-Kévin NKoudou, Nahki Wells, Sam Vokes, Jon Walters.

Stoke ended last season in 13th place. It was their lowest finish in four years since Mark Hughes had taken over from Tony Pulis. but I don’t think anyone expected them to have such a difficult season. I spoke to a couple of Stoke fans when I went to Brocton to watch the under-23 team pre-season game and they said it would be difficult for them because they’d lost players such as Walters, Bardsley and former Burnley target Glenn Whelan who had gone to Aston Villa.

Whether that’s the reason or not, the loss of all that Premier League experience, they are now in a real battle to stay up with boss Paul Lambert, who replaced Hughes in January, suggesting they will need to win three of their four remaining games. They are currently five points adrift of Swansea, who occupy the safe 17th position, and the Welsh club have a game in hand.

Lambert had the task of a trip to Manchester United for his first game in charge. They lost that 3-0 but a week later he was celebrating a 2-0 win against Huddersfield in his first home game in charge, the goals coming from Joe Allen and Mame Biram Diouf.

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Unfortunately for them, they haven’t won since with their only points coming from home draws against Watford and Brighton and points on the road in draws at Leicester, Southampton and West Ham.

Lambert has been given a boost ahead of the game. Glen Johnson (pictured) could be fit to return after a groin injury while Charlie Adam, sent off in the home defeat against Everton last month, has now completed his ban.

Last time out at West Ham, they went in front with a goal from Peter Crouch who had come on as a substitute. It’s thought that he could start tomorrow.

Stoke’s team at West Ham was: Jack Butland, Moritz Bauer, Erik Pieters, Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi, Ryan Shawcross, Joe Allen, Xherdan Shaqiri, Papa Alioune Ndiaye, Ramadan Sobhi, Mame Biram Diouf. Subs: Lee Grant, Geoff Cameron, Stephen Ireland, Darren Fletcher, Lasse Sorensen, Peter Crouch, Tyrese Campbell.




One point from five away games meant changes for Burnley. Sean Dyche dropped Matt Lowton and brought in loan full back Jon Flanagan. Scott Arfield came in for the injured Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson while he went back to a 4-4-2 formation with Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray up front meaning there was no place for either Steven Defour or Sam Vokes.

We started well and might have had an early penalty for handball but it didn’t last and it was soon back to normal away service as Stoke took over. Jon Walters it was who gave them the lead just twenty minutes in and as they continued to dominate they added a second ten minutes before half time, a goal scored by Marc Muniesa.

Burnley were fuming over that goal. We’d put the ball out to allow Charlie Adam to receive treatment but they, unsportingly, hammered the ball down the pitch and out for a throw almost by the goal line. We never really got it away from there. Marko Arnautovic beat Flanagan far too easily for Muniesa to score.

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Things at least changed after the break. Heads had dropped in previous away games once behind but here we at least gave it a go even if, ultimately, it all came to nothing and we lost the game 2-0.

There is absolutely no doubt that Stoke should have gone down to ten men when Muniesa pulled back Gray as he went through and given it continued into the box we should have also got a penalty. Referee Clattenburg only showed a yellow and only gave a free kick.

It was, in the end, another away defeat, one of many last season when our home form was good enough to keep us up.

The teams were;

Stoke: Lee Grant, Glen Johnson, Bruno Martins Indi, Marc Muniesa, Erik Pieters, Gianelli Imbula, Charlie Adam (Glenn Whelan 87), Mame Biram Diouf, Xherdan Shaqiri (Joe Allen 61), Marko Arnautovic (Peter Crouch 71), Jon Walters. Subs not used: Shay Given, Ramadan Sobhi, Bojan Krkic, Wilfried Bony.

Burnley: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan (James Tarkowski 81), Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd (Sam Vokes 77), Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney, Scott Arfield (Michael Kightly 90), Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs not used: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Steven Defour, Patrick Bamford.

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