Premier League preview: Stoke City v Aston Villa
Stoke City host Aston Villa on Saturday in one of a host of intriguing relegation scraps this weekend.
Stoke's 1-0 loss to Everton on Saturday delved Tony Pulis' side ever closer to the relegation zone, where as many as eight sides are desperately scrapping to avoid the remaining relegation spot with QPR and Reading's fates seemingly sealed.
At the heart of the problem for Pulis and Stoke is a lack of goals.
The Britannia Stadium outfit have scored fewer times (27) than any other side in the Premier League this season and despite looking well and truly safe at the end of December, now appear to be anything but.
One win in 11 Premier League games and six goals scored during that period paints an ugly picture for Pulis, who will be acutely aware of Stoke's predicament ahead of Manchester United's visit the following weekend.
Stoke lie four points clear of Villa, who hold the last relegation spot but also plenty of hope following an encouraging month.
Christian Benteke scored his 14th league goal of the season in an impressive first half from Villa on Sunday against Liverpool.
But, Paul Lambert's side were swarmed in midfield thereafter by a much better drilled Reds outfit in the second half as they fell to a 2-1 defeat to halt a two-game winning streak.
Benteke remains Villa's primary threat and will be the key to the young side's survival hopes in the run in.
But as poor as Stoke have been in attack, Villa have been equally dismal defensively.
Lambert's side have failed to keep a clean sheet in the league since November and it will be their ability to hold firm at the back and hit Stoke on the break that will ultimately decide Saturday's clash.
Villa's Australian duo Brett Holman (hamstring) and Chris Herd (ankle) are unlikely to play, with Ciaran Clark still battling a shoulder complaint and Andreas Weimann battling a hamstring niggle to line up in the starting 11 again.
Matthew Etherington (knock) remains sidelined for Stoke, who have an otherwise clean bill of health.