Friday 20 April 2018

Hughes aiming for successive wins

Stoke boss Mark Hughes has sights firmly set on a top-half finish
Stoke boss Mark Hughes has sights firmly set on a top-half finish

Stoke boss Mark Hughes believes his side can virtually assure a top-10 finish by winning their next two matches.

The Potters have successive home games, against Hull on Saturday and Everton on Wednesday, and if they can take all six points on offer Hughes believes they will end the season in the top half of the Barclays Premier League table.

They head into the weekend four points clear of 11th-placed Newcastle, unlikely to trouble the European spots and clear of relegation strife.

But Hughes insists there is still a tangible goal to play for.

"I think we can do that (guarantee a top-10 place) with two wins, certainly that will make the gap really difficult to overcome for the teams below," Hughes told Stoke City Player.

"That can help us because we want to get as high as we can. It's our priority, something we've talked about since the start of the season and it's still very much on for us if we win the games we know we're capable of."

Hull have taken seven points from their last three games to catapult them out of the bottom three, but Hughes does not expect his men to be outdone in terms of self-belief when the teams meet.

"There's been a couple of good results for Hull, but they needed them...they were on a terrible run in fairness," he added.

"They've been able to pick up points from the teams around them, which is important in their situation and winning breeds confidence so they'll be better mentally than they were three or four weeks ago.

"But we're in good nick ourselves and they won't be looking forward to coming here and matching themselves up against us."

Hughes also confirmed that negotiations over a contract extension were heading in the right direction.

"It's progressing well, there's will on both sides to get it done," he said.

"It's a club that's still going places and we'v got a lot to achieve here. The next few years can be really exciting."

Stoke have Geoff Cameron back from a one-match suspension on Saturday.

Ryan Shawcross (back) and Bojan (knee) remain out, while Jon Walters, Erik Pieters, Marc Wilson and Stephen Ireland should all feature again having returned from injury against Aston Villa.

Hull may be looking to stretch their unbeaten run to four matches against Stoke, but manager Steve Bruce has warned his players they remain in a "horrible dogfight".

The Tigers took just three points from a possible 12 in January and their prospects were looking bleak after successive defeats to West Brom, West Ham and Newcastle.

But a battling draw at Manchester City raised spirits and victories over fellow strugglers Aston Villa and QPR see Bruce's boys head into Saturday's match in 15th place.

There is no sense of complacency, though, with Bruce well aware of how quickly the picture could change again between now and May.

"The result against Manchester City gave everyone a lift at the right time and back-to-back wins against teams around us...how good that feels," he said.

"Two weeks ago we were in the bottom three and now we're four points clear, but we've got to maintain it.

"We're not out of the woods yet. We're in a horrible dogfight and there's eight or nine teams in with us who are all feeling it.

"If you can put another couple of results together at this particular stage of the season it will really help.

"They're all really big games - how often have we said that? - but within a week we're nearly down to single figures in terms of games to play."

Should Hull emerge from their trip to the Potteries and Tuesday night's home clash with Sunderland with two positive results, they would surely be a long way towards guaranteeing a third straight season in the top flight.

Bruce is aiming for a regular seat at the top table and sees Stoke as a perfect example of what is possible.

"It's a really healthy club," he said.

"That's something we aim to achieve here. Stoke and West Brom are two types of club we can take an example from.

"They're well run, they built their training grounds up and the infrastructure to go with it, and over the years they've steadily become established Premier League teams.

"That's something we can aspire to. The longer we're here, the better the squad becomes and the better facilities become."

The only sour note for Bruce this week has been the continued absence of midfielder Mohamed Diame.

The Senegal midfielder was a revelation in the weeks following his summer switch from West Ham, scoring four times in his first five matches, but he has not been seen since a knee injury on December 3.

A new setback last week scuppered his planned return and he is not yet back in training.

Press Association

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport