The Opposition: Stoke City

The Gameplan
We play the 4-4-1-1 with Beattie flitting between making a five man midfield and helping out Ric up front. We can knock it about and have had good results when we have done that, for example the first half against Wolves on Saturday, but can also knock it long. If we do that it's not without its skill as our philosophy is why play 20 passes around the defence before lumping it forward, as 90% of sides do, when you can get it forward with one pass and not let the opposition get organised. Once in the final third Fuller, Tuncay, Lawrence, Etherington, Beattie and Whelan show their skill and we prove we aren't just a team of cloggers.

Strengths
Pace, power and effort. At the minute Matty Etherington is on fire and troubles every full back he comes up against. We are strong on set pieces and have skill in the final 3rd to unlock any defence outside the top 4. Defence is well organised and Faye and Shawcross are class in the centre.

Weaknesses
We rarely get more than 50% possession, mostly hovering around the 35-40% mark. If we had more of the ball our players wouldn't be as knackered come the end of the game. There is no real specific way of conceding that we are weak at. At a push I'd say Sorro isn't fantastic at long range free kicks but he's more than capable of saving them.

Injuries/Suspensions
Mama Sidibe is out after picking up a hamstring injury in the reserves' win against Chelsea and Amdy Faye is another definite absentee. Salif Diao missed out last week but may be fit to return. Rob Huth returns after a 3-match ban for a bit of GBH on Matthew Upson.

Player by Player
GK - Thomas Sorenson
Strengths - No joke: I would put him in the top 5 keepers in the country. Claims crosses, stops shots, distribution is good and is a leader
Weaknesses - No real weaknesses but can be slightly suspect on free kicks.
Any good? - As stated above I'd put him in the top 5 keepers in the country. One of our most vital players

RB - Robert Huth
Strengths - Big, strong, dependable and fantastic on the ball
Weaknesses - Not the most fluent mover, doesn't really get forward and is coming back from a 3 game ban for a stupid red card
Any good? - Nearly 20 Germany caps says all you need to know

LB - Danny Collins
Strengths - Passing and composure on the ball is good. Gets forward when possible
Weaknesses - Suspect against pace and can get caught out positionally
Any good? - Jury is still out. Improvement on Higginbotham when it comes to attacking but not as good defensively

CB - Ryan Shawcross
Strengths - Heading (both defensively and offensively), passing, control, composure and, after last week, crossing!
Weaknesses - None
Any good? - Future City captain and England international. Rejected bids from Liverpool and Manchester United last summer and is a real star in the making

CB - Abdoulaye Faye
Strengths - Composure, speed, agility, heading, positioning and leads by example
Weaknesses - With his composure comes this ability to get out of any situation. He can be on one leg, off balance with the ball stuck under his feet and a striker all over him yet he will come out of it. However one of these days he is going to turn his way into trouble and it'll be costly
Any good? - Captain for a reason. A rock at the back, seems to put his best performances in when others are having an off day and he needs to.

RM - Liam Lawrence
Strengths - Crossing and set pieces, whether it be shooting or crossing, are top drawer and a regular source of goals. Energy is fantastic
Weaknesses - Not blessed with a lot of pace. Currently carrying an injury as well
Any good? - A poor man's David Beckham, and wouldn't we all like to be that. Well worthy of being a top flight player
 
LM - Matthew Etherington
Strengths - Pace to burn, crossing is getting better, finishing is spot on and full backs are just watching him fly by at the minute.
Weaknesses - If he gets a kick early on it can lead to a quiet game and before he came into this run of form he had a habit of going 90 minutes without even attempting to beat his full back once.
Any good? - At the minute our best player. A fantastic assist and great goal last week. If he gets the better of the full backs early on it could be a long afternoon for Hull.

CM - Salif Diao
Strengths - Strong in the tackle, senses the danger and has a calming influence on our play.
Weaknesses - Not the most mobile and struggles to last past the hour mark.
Any good? - I had written him off but he's come back better than the player who transformed us back in 06/7.

CM - Rory Delap
Strengths - That throw-in is an obvious weapon but he also breaks up play really well and puts himself about
Weaknesses - Not fully fit at the minute, looks tired, and shooting is terrible. If he plays wide right he doesn't offer as much as when he's in the middle
Any good? - Worth a place in the side but one of the players I wouldn't be too upset to see on the bench.

CF - James Beattie
Strengths - Power, eye for goal and determination. Defenders have to be on their toes all the time as he is a predator and can also shoot from anywhere
Weaknesses - Doesn't offer as much in build up play as other attackers at the club but makes up for it with his finishing.
Any good? - With service he is deadly and his finishing is up there with the best of them. Without service he'll be off after an hour.

CF - Ricardo Fuller
Strengths - Pace and power means, on his day, he is unstoppable for ANY defence. Many fans think he's lazy but I see all the work he does off the ball and all the chasing lost causes down the channels, as well as runs that our midfield don't see
Weaknesses - Dodgy knees mean he will never pass a conventional medical, and that's why he's at Stoke, but game-wise he can get a bit hot headed and sometimes go in a sulk
Any good? - Our most skillful player of the last 25 years, if not longer. Has ability to win a game on his own and is the first name on the teamsheet

Dan Buxton is editor of Stoke City Mad