Saturday's big match preview

Stoke City v West Ham United Saturday, May 2, 3pm Britannia Stadium ONE OF the very best Premier League bets at the start of the season was that Stoke City would be relegated come May. It was right up there with Dean Ashton being injured and Luis Boa Mort

Stoke City v West Ham United

Saturday, May 2, 3pm

Britannia Stadium

ONE OF the very best Premier League bets at the start of the season was that Stoke City would be relegated come May.


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It was right up there with Dean Ashton being injured and Luis Boa Morte failing to score.

But to many people's amazement, only two of those three predictions have come true. Stoke have proved they are worthy of a place in the top flight, with some excellent performances to haul themselves clear of the drop zone.

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They have done it mainly through their home form. They are unbeaten in their last seven games at the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League, a run that has included wins over Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Manchester City.

In fact, the last time they lost at home was against Manchester United on Boxing Day and that was only 1-0.

Their good run of results coincided with Tony Pulis splashing �3.5million on striker James Beattie and another �2million on West Ham's Matthew Ethering-ton, who has thrived in the Midlands.

Beattie's six goals since his arrival have been the difference for the Potters, though he is struggling to be fit for Satur-day's game, after missing last week's 1-0 defeat at Fulham with a hamstring injury.

Etherington, though, will be keen to prove something to his former employers, and with the likes of long-throw expert Rory Delap and striker Ricardo Fuller also in their team, this will be a tough prospect for the Hammers.

Fuller has eight goals to his name this season to make him Stoke's top scorer, but it was he who contributed most to the Potters defeat at Upton Park in December.

The striker was sent off after striking his own player in Andy Griffin after West Ham had equalised, and the Hammers finally beat the 10-men with a late and rare Diego Tristan goal.

History is certainly in West Ham's favour too. They won 1-0 at the Britannia as they made a late and successful sprint for the play-offs in 2005, thanks to Bobby Zamora's goal.

Indeed they haven't lost at Stoke since 1983, and that was at their old Victoria Ground.

No wins in three means that West Ham will be desperate for the victory to get back on track for a European place.

It won't be easy, but with Stoke City seemingly safe, it may be that the Hammers need the points just a little more than the Potters.

PROBAble team: Sore-nsen, Kelly, Shawcross, Faye, Pugh, Lawrence, Whelan, Delap, Etherington, Fuller, Cresswell.

Prediction:

Stoke City 1 West Ham 2

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