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Betting preview: Stoke - Brighton

Concerns are growing around the Potteries - already - that this is destined to be the season where Stoke’s nine-year Premier League journey comes to an end. To see the reaction to last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth - a fairly ordinary result, it must be said - is to see the pressure mounting on a club that simply isn’t accustomed to being in this kind of scenario. 
Parallels are being drawn among older supporters with the club’s last relegation campaign, suffered nearly 20 years ago. The fixture list is being studied like never before, to such an extent whereby many have now reached the conclusion that this represents the club’s single biggest game since they were promoted to the top flight under Tony Pulis in 2008.
It’s a make-or-break mindset that has been verbalised by skipper Ryan Shawcross in the local press this week and a record crowd is expected at the Bet365 Stadium. This promises to be Stoke’s biggest home attendance in 30 years, the highest for a league game since 1980. It’s obvious what everyone is trying to do but some things don’t need to be said.
Instead of creating a galvanising effect, the tone might only be generating more pressure. The Potters are going to be fiercely determined but things could soon unravel if they throw their best punches early on and fail to knock Brighton off balance. Last weekend, they were ahead inside five minutes but it counted for nothing in a performance that disintegrated as time elapsed.
For 35 minutes, Stoke were the better team. Then Bournemouth got their act together and the game was to and fro until Josh King soon levelled once the Cherries began to turn the screw midway through the second period. From then on, it was one-way traffic. In the 16 minutes that remained after Lys Mousset’s winner, Stoke failed to muster a single attempt on goal.

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Paul Lambert tried to focus on the positives and talk up the performance in his post-match briefing afterwards but nobody was fooled. Instead, people are questioning the wisdom of trying to impose a new pressing game mid-season when they players aren’t really conditioned for it. The benefits of training six days a week might not surface for a while yet.
Indeed, it’s a damning indictment on the legacy that Mark Hughes leaves behind that Stoke haven’t scored a single goal from the 86th minute onwards for 64 matches. New signing Badou Ndiaye embodies the energy and enthusiasm that Lambert is trying to inject, but he visibly tired at the Vitality Stadium and was withdrawn after 70 minutes. 
Brighton will possibly relish the prospect of their hosts being so proactive out of possession. They like to sit deep on the road and pick teams off on the counter and unless Stoke execute their game plan with precision, they could be playing straight into the visitors’ hands. Chris Hughton’s men boast a W6 D6 L2 record against bottom-half opposition this term.
Goals have too often been at a premium for the Seagulls, but that appears to be changing lately. The arrival of £14m striker Jurgen Locadia three weeks ago, combined with the return to the Amex of Leo Ulloa, has sparked a competition for places that is bringing the best out of Glenn Murray: the 34-year-old striker has netted five times in 2018.
Pascal Gross and Jose Izquierdo were also on the scoresheet in last weekend’s 3-1 win over West Ham, the same two men who netted equalisers in the televised 2-2 draw with Stoke at the Amex in November. Hughton described the second half against the Hammers as their best 45 minutes of the season and he’s expecting a big finish to season from Gross, in particular.
Murray insists that heads never dropped during a sticky period of one win in 14 matches, mainly because it was punctuated by a couple of morale-boosting FA Cup wins over Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough. But it’s also evident that the Albion players believe a significant corner has been turned in the past fortnight and they can hold their nerve better in this game.
Recommended bet:
Brighton +0.25 on the Asian handicap at 21/20

England - Premier League Stoke City vs Brighton and Hove Albion 10 February, 15:00 GMT 0

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