Sport Soccer

Friday 15 December 2017

No easy game against Stoke, says Bilic

West Ham fell foul of Stoke in the last game of last season
West Ham fell foul of Stoke in the last game of last season

West Ham boss Slaven Bilic has scoffed at suggestions that Saturday's opponents Stoke are already on the beach.

The Potters have been rooted in mid-table all season and have lost five of their last six matches, with only a win over struggling Hull to show for their efforts.

But Bilic knows only too well that City manager Mark Hughes and his assistant, former Hammers defender Mark Bowen, will not allow their players to clock off early.

"A couple of games ago, they had that game against Hull at home and then they were on 36 points and they needed to win that game," said Bilic.

"Now they are on 39 but knowing Mark Hughes, they will not be on a beach. I would like them to be, make no mistake.

"But I remember we played them the last game of last season and they were 10th and they could have been on the beach, big time, but no.

"We were winning and we needed that win to not have go to the Europa League qualifying round, and we tried.

"And then in the second half they turned it around, 2-1, and they celebrated like hell. So no, they are not on the beach.

"The only thing to stop that talk is to say the name of their manager, Mark Hughes, and his assistant, who played with us here, Mark Bowen.

"They are never on the beach. They are hard men, proper hard men and that's the reality, definitely."

Bilic has a mounting end-of-season injury crisis to deal with for the trip to the Potteries.

Andy Carroll's absence comes as little surprise but the Hammers could also be without Winston Reid, Cheikhou Kouyate, Arthur Masuaku and Diafra Sakho.

With Michail Antonio, Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna already out for the season, Bilic could potentially be missing eight first-team players.

Nevertheless, their three-match unbeaten run has coincided with the return to the side of veteran defender James Collins.

The Wales international, dubbed 'Ginger Pele' by fans, cemented his cult hero status by jumping into the stands to give his shirt away and pose for selfies following last weekend's draw with Everton.

"It is great to have him," said Bilic. "He is like Braveheart and very good to have on the pitch, and in the dressing room.

"He is one of the leaders. A leader with a big heart for everyone.

"The way he is playing he deserves a lot of praise, with the quality of his game and the determination he puts in."

Bilic can welcome back Sam Byram and captain Mark Noble from suspension against Stoke.

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