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Stoke preview

The first of a pair of games over the next four days of course, and both important for different reasons.

The midweek game sees us face a tricky away trip to the Britannia Stadium for one of our games in hand that will see us hopefully put some distance between ourselves and the chasing pack.

Tomorrow though it is all about the FA Cup, and with this seasons competition opening up with the exit of some of the favourities, we have a real opportunity to go one stage better than we did in the Carling Cup. Not that this appears to have stirred the passions of the fans as a whole though.

A poll over at TLDORC suggests a 50/50 split between whether fans would prefer the three points in the league or FA Cup progression tomorrow. A strange return for me given a defeat in the league is one we can absorb, and given the fixtures we have remaining should not be the deciding factor between a finish inside or outside the top four. Defeat tomorrow though would be hugely disappointing, and would result in another season without a trophy when, given the squad we have assembled, we should be pushing hard for honours.

On paper it is a decidedly easier task than it would be had we been drawn away from home. Stoke are not renowned travellers and since their return to the top flight we have posted a pair of victories against them and we will be favoured heading into the game.

Tuesday's star man Adam Johnson is ineligible of course, so Roberto Mancini will have to alter his line-up. I don't see him making sweeping changes though and it wouldn't be a surprise if Martin Petrov to replace Johnson was the only change unless Kolo Toure fails to make it.

Stoke I'm sure will provide a test for us tomorrow - and they are unbeaten in seven games in 2010 so far, yet our impressive (and continuing) home winning and goalscoring record has not be achieved by accident 

Both Portsmouth and Bolton saw us return functional and unspectacular 2-0 victories. No change to that blueprint tomorrow.