Mancini concerned by Stoke threat

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The Independent Online

Roberto Mancini has called on his Manchester City players to pay more attention at set-pieces as they aim to gatecrash the Premier League's top four.

City will edge into that coveted fourth spot if they avoid defeat to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium, one of two matches in hand for the ambitious Blues.

However, Mancini is acutely aware City must defend better than they did on Saturday, when Ricardo Fuller scored direct from one of Rory Delap's famous long throws, if they are to achieve their objective.

"It will be hard for us because Stoke are dangerous at free-kicks and throw-ins," said the Italian.

"We must prepare very well and we must pay more attention in these situations. If we want to go up the table, we need to change our mentality. But I think we will be ready for a fight."

Tonight's game represents the start of a tough period for the Blues that is likely to shape their season.

In addition to the FA Cup replay against Stoke, with Chelsea lying in wait for the victors, City must visit Stamford Bridge in the league immediately after Sunday's collision with Liverpool at Eastlands.

Not that Mancini can afford to look beyond what happens this evening.

"It is a tough period," he acknowledged.

"But at the moment, all I am thinking about is Stoke.

"In the last 15 minutes on Saturday, we shot too many balls in the air. We must continue to play on the pitch."

Mancini is bound to make changes, which include Patrick Vieira's return to central midfield.

Adam Johnson also appears a certain starter after he was cup-tied for Saturday's game.

Johnson's man-of-the-match performance against Bolton last week would probably have guaranteed him selection anyway but with Martin Petrov and Shaun Wright-Phillips both doubtful, the former Middlesbrough man seems destined to occupy a left-sided berth.

Mancini did raise some hope that Craig Bellamy might be available but as he previously ruled the Welshman out with a knee injury, not too much optimism can be generated.

So, if both Bellamy and another of Saturday's walking wounded, midfielder Stephen Ireland, are absent, injury-prone Roque Santa Cruz might be handed his first start since lasting just four minutes of his previous one, at Everton last month.

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