Hughes targets best ever finish
Stoke boss Mark Hughes is feeling optimistic about the chances of 2013/14 ending up as a season of significant Barclays Premier League personal bests for the club.
The Potters are in decent form with eight matches of their campaign to go having lost only once in their last seven, and they are currently 11th in the table, level on 34 points with 10th-placed Aston Villa, who have nine games left and are their hosts on Sunday.
Since their promotion to the division in 2008, Stoke's highest finish has been 11th place in 2009/10, which is when they also achieved their biggest overall points haul of 47.
And Hughes sees bettering those numbers as "attainable and realistic" this term if his side keep playing the way they are.
"There are a number of things we can achieve if we have a good finish to the season," Hughes said.
"There is the highest position Stoke have ever finished in the Premier League, and that is still within our grasp.
"There is the biggest points total as well, and we could still do that.
"So there are a number of things we can look ahead to and think 'yes, that is attainable and realistic' - so why not have a real push between now and the end of the season and see how many things we can achieve in this campaign?
"I think it is there for us if we recognise that and push on now.
"I sense the players themselves recognise where we are in our season and it is up to us now to kick on and finish strongly, because if we do then we will achieve a lot.
"There are a lot of things we can hit for the first time as Stoke City in the Premier League, and we will use that to motivate us."
Following his appointment as manager last summer, Hughes has been trying to get Stoke playing a more flowing brand of football than in previous seasons and Saturday's 3-1 victory over West Ham, with the manner in which it was achieved, indicated things are now really starting to come together on that front.
"In terms of what we are producing at the moment, we are delighted," Hughes said.
"What is particularly pleasing from everybody's point of view is that we are both performing well and getting rewards for that.
"I think there have been periods during the season where we have performed okay but haven't got the points on the board, but at the moment we are able to go into games with confidence, play well and get points.
"All in all, we are in decent shape. I always said I felt the team would be stronger in the second half of the season, and that seems to be bearing up."
Winger Oussama Assaidi could make his return to action on Sunday, when Stoke will be looking for only their second Premier League win of the season.
Assaidi, on loan with the Potters from Liverpool, has been working his way back to fitness after a knee injury and will be checked ahead of the trip to Villa Park along with defender Erik Pieters, who limped off in the West Ham match having taken a knock to the leg.
Robert Huth (knee) is out for the rest of the season and both Charlie Adam and Jon Walters remain suspended, while Stephen Ireland will also have to miss the game under the terms of the contract he signed when his loan with Stoke from Villa was turned into a permanent deal in January.