Sport Soccer

Friday 28 October 2016

Stoke boss Mark Hughes refuses to rule out top-four challenge

Published 31/12/2015 | 11:41

Mark Hughes' Stoke are finishing 2015 in fine form.
Mark Hughes' Stoke are finishing 2015 in fine form.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes admits his side are currently ahead of target this term and is not dismissing talk of a push for the top four.

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In a hugely unpredictable Barclays Premier League season that, at the halfway stage, sees Leicester level on points with leaders Arsenal and champions Chelsea only three above the relegation zone, the Potters are shaping up well.

Monday's 4-3 victory at Everton was their third win in five league games - the others came against Manchester City and Manchester United - and they are finishing 2015 only two points off fifth place.

Stoke winger Xherdan Shaqiri, who netted twice against Everton, has been quoted this week suggesting a challenge for a Champions League spot is not out of the question.

And when that was put to Hughes on Thursday at his press conference to preview Saturday's trip to West Brom, he said: "Who knows in this season?

"Whether this is a sign of things to come and a changing of the order, I'm not too sure.

"But it is fantastic to see the likes of Leicester up there, and ourselves - we are trying to have a go.

"Crystal Palace, West Ham, teams like that - we are in the top half, and we are there on merit.

"All teams such as ourselves are going into games thinking we will back our ability against anybody and see how far it takes us.

"Up to this point we have been really encouraged by what we have produced and we just have to keep it going.

"We know we can beat anyone in this league, although there are a lot of teams who will say exactly the same.

"So it is about having that consistency, and if we can get that, who knows where we can go?"

Hughes, whose two seasons at Stoke so far have seen him guide them to back-to-back ninth-placed finishes, added: "We had targets before the season, and we're above where we thought we would be at this stage.

"That is encouraging, and the second half of seasons have been strong for us, so we are looking forward to 2016."

A notable element of flair has developed in Stoke's play under Hughes and Shaqiri's second goal against Everton appeared a perfect example of that as he met a lofted pass with one touch that sent the ball floating over Tim Howard and in from the edge of the box.

Some observers have hailed it as a goal-of-the-season contender, although others have questioned whether the effort was a fluke.

The debate continued on Thursday, with Hughes saying: "I'd like to think he meant it - although unfortunately I heard (Stoke midfielder) Charlie Adam on the radio saying Shaq told him he didn't! I would have kept quiet myself!

"Irrespective of whether he meant it or not, it was still a fantastic goal. But you shouldn't really doubt Shaq because he has the ability to do something like that."

Meanwhile, Hughes has once again played down the prospect of Stoke being busy in the January transfer window.

"I don't think there is any urgency on our part to add really," he said.

"We have had conversations about certain players that we like the look of and are asking about their circumstances and availability, but I think everyone does that leading into a window.

"If the right player is available we'll consider it, but if we need to wait, we will."

Press Association

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