Ahead of the now first of two trips to The Brtiannia Stadium in little over a week it is not a stretch to suggest we are entering a phase of the season often referred to as 'make or break'.
Following Saturday's FA Cup result and subsequent quarter-final draw, we now know we face a very difficult path through to a second cup semi-final appearance this season. In the league, our bid for fourth sees us face Stoke, Liverpool and Chelsea (and potentially Tottenham depending upon results in the FA Cup) over the next three weeks. Games of course that all look difficult heading into them.
Tonight though we have a real opportunity. The trip to Stoke is one of our games in hand and a look at the tableshows that victory will see us move into sole possession of fourth spot, three points ahead of Liverpool (the only side who will stop us getting fourth in my opinion) still with a game in hand. How big Sunday's fixture is already looking.
Confidence heading into tonight is in short supply though. Saturday's game was the climax of recent failings, with grumblings from the stands regarding the tactical approach - namely a lack of ambition when leading 1-0. It is no secret that since defeat to United in the Carling Cup, we appear to lack cohesion in the side, as if we are suffering a hangover from missing out on a trip to Wembley.
Added to our recent sketchy form is the news that the side could be without up to six key players tonight. There will be no Tevez - whose loss was so evident on Saturday - this evening (and he may even miss the Liverpool fixture), whilst Bellamy and Kompany are also out. Doubtes remain over the availability of Wright-Phillips, Ireland and Petrov, whose injuries whilst being less serious could impact on Sunday and Mancini may feel they are better served sitting out tonight.
Stoke too though have injury worries going into the game, and the in-form Matthew Etherington is definitely out, whilst there are doubts over Lawrence and Wilkinson.
Adam Johnson will return to the side for us, and I would be surprised (although I have often been when seeing Mancini's starting eleven) if he didn't pair Adebayor and Santa Cruz up front, with Johnson in the role(s) we saw against Bolton to offer more mobility up front to stretch the Stoke defence.
Interestingly, we have not drawn a league game against Stoke in the last fifteen meetings, but given our current form and Stoke's home record most I'm sure would be happy with that return.
However, a win would be a huge boost ahead of Sunday and I'll take us sneak this one 2-1.