When Mark Hughes was sacked as Queens Park Rangers manager in November 2012, he left the west London club adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table. A managerial reign which began with keeping QPR in the division was terminated six months later. Hughes had invested in big-name players - Ji-Sung Park, Esteban Granero and Julio Cesar to name a few - but the increase in expectation levels around Loftus Road was not matched by results on the pitch. In what would become a season most fans would rather forget, Hughes was sacked after a 3-1 defeat at home to Southampton in November. At that point, QPR, without a win, had amassed just four points from their opening 12 league games.
Hughes had to wait for half a year before Stoke City appointed him as Tony Pulis’ successor but he has gone some way to repairing the damage incurred to his reputation at Loftus Road with an encouraging opening campaign in Staffordshire. Stoke occupy 10 position going into this weekend’s game and are well on their way to securing a first top-half league finish since Tony Pulis guided them into the Premier League in 2008.
A big reason for that has been Stoke’s recent form. Before last week’s defeat at Chelsea, Hughes’ side had accumulated 13 points from their previous five matches. Their record at the Britannia - where they have lost just two games - has been good all season and victory over Saturday’s opponents would reduce the gap between the two to three points.
While Stoke have improved of late, Newcastle have floundered. Alan Pardew’s team have lost nine of 14 league matches in 2014, including three on the spin, a run of form that has coincided with the calf injury suffered by top scorer Loic Remy. Pardew must again watch from the stands at the Britannia - his touchline ban for headbutting Hull City’s David Meyler runs until the game at Arsenal on April 28 - so John Carver will again take charge from the dugout.
Stoke have beaten Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal at home this season but in Papiss Cisse, Newcastle have a striker that has never failed to score against the Potters. However, he may not start at the Britannia, with Remy nearing a welcome return to first-team action.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 3.07pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Newcastle United 5 (Remy 2, Gouffran, Cabaye, Cisse) Stoke City 1 (Assaidi), Premier League, December 2013
Newcastle United 2 (Cabaye, Cisse) Stoke City 1 (Walters), Premier League, March 2013
Stoke City 2 (Walters, Jerome) Newcastle United 1 (Cisse), Premier League, November 2012
Papiss Cisse has never failed to score against Stoke (four goals from four games)
Stoke have won five of their last seven home league matches
Newcastle have won four of the last five games between the teams
Stoke need eight points from their remaining five league games to secure their highest ever Premier League points tally
The last five matches between the teams have yielded 19 goals - an average of 3.8
Stoke City to win: 2.10
Newcastle United to win: 3.30
Stoke City 1-3 Newcastle United, October 2011
This was the Demba Ba show. The Senegalese striker was simply too good for Stoke on Halloween, heading in Gabriel Obertan’s cross before adding his second goal of the game just before half-time. The striker’s push led to Jonathan Walters pulling a goal back from the spot but Ba completed his hat-trick and extended Newcastle’s unbeaten Premier League run to 13 games with a penalty of his own 10 minutes from time.
TV: Highlights on BBC1 at 10.30pm