RF: Whats the general mood around Stoke at the moment? Inconsistent form has you 11th in the table and you exited the FA Cup to lower league opposition. It could be a lot worse though (you only have to ask Sunderland fans that!) - do fans feel the team should be performing better?
BF: At the moment there is a split between fans. Following Stoke’s recent form and Mark’s treatment of certain players during the post-match interview following our defeat in the FA Cup to Wolves, many fans are calling for new management.
However, other fans are reminding everyone that we had a difficult festive period fixture list and Hughes should be given some more faith. The team definitely should be performing better but we lack a balance in the squad at the moment of technical and grafting players.
RF: On a similar note, there were some rumblings earlier in the season that Hughes should go after a slightly poor start. Has an upturn in fortunes curbed those calls or do you feel he's taken the club as far as he can?
BF: The results at the start of the season were forgotten following the climb up the table, however since late November/early December, some fans have been using those results as a reason to call for Mark’s head. I personally believe Mark Hughes should be allowed to finish the season, if he brings in a new striker.
The squad is largely built around players he has bought in to follow his style. In June, Peter Coates - the Stoke chairman - should evaluate the season and if our finishing position is not above 9th, we may need fresh management.
RF: I've seen suggestions that Hughes is struggling to find a balance between his flair players and ones who are classed as more hard working. Would you be able to expand on that and how do you think he could solve that problem?
BF: This has been a big talking point amongst fans. Generally speaking our squad can be split in two. Players that Mark bought in - flair players, and players still around from the Pulis era - grafters. Mark has stated that there is a problem with balance, with some supporters saying that it’s rubbish and he's trying to become Barcelona-lite.
However, our first few seasons in the Premier League were only possible because of players like Glen Whelan. I personally think it’s possible to solve outside of the window by playing more players from the Pulis team, such as Glen Whelan and Jon Walters.
That said, it would make more sense to bring in a few new faces who have a higher work rate.
RF: Do you see Stoke doing much business in the transfer window and if so, where do you need to strengthen?
BF: I think Stoke need to be conducting some business. We are in desperate need of a goal-scoring striker, somebody who is as consistent as your Defoe.
Rumour has it that Pellegrini wants to take Wilfried Bony to China in this window, meaning we would need a back-up striker anyway. Crouch has signed a new deal but even with him, we still lack a striker who scores regularly, despite his recent form.
RF: Who, on current form, worries you in the Sunderland side?
BF: Two players come to mind immediately - Jermaine Defoe and Patrick van Aanholt.
Defoe is a threat to any team. Patrick is a gifted defender who not only is able to take the ball from an opponent with ease, but is also a technically gifted player, who is comfortable to dribble and provide overlapping crosses - all of which are major threats to Stoke with our current form.
RF: And who should Sunderland fans be worried about in the Stoke team?
BF: Right now, that list is very limited. Crouch of course is scoring at the moment. His frame makes it difficult to defend, if he links well with the wingers and gets some crosses coming to him then he can be extremely deadly.
Joe Allen, although he has stopped scoring recently - the main reason he was bought to the club is still visible. His ability to hold the ball in midfield and pass to any player ahead makes it difficult to prevent balls being played to wingers such as Arnautovic and Shaqiri.
RF: Give us a predicted line up - and how you think Hughes will approach the game?
BF: Grant, Bardsley, Shawcross, Bruno, Pieters, Allen, Marko, Whelan, Shaq, Walters and Crouch.
I think Mark Hughes will try and play it safe and grind out a result - less attacking flair, playing low balls and with slow build up play. He knows that if he loses, it could be the final straw for many Stoke fans.
RF: Finally, a prediction please?
BF: I reckon 2-1 to Sunderland. We just aren’t playing well at the moment and with us playing at The Stadium of Light, it just adds to the pressure.
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