Mark Hughes understands Stoke fans now have higher expectations
Mark Hughes understands the frustration of Stoke fans and accepts he is now held to a higher standard.
The Potters are chasing an unprecedented fourth successive top-10 finish in the Premier League and sit only one point and one place off that with four games left.
But after recovering from a poor start to push on towards the leading places, Stoke have stalled again with five defeats in their last six matches.
Last weekend saw Hughes’ side beaten 2-0 by relegation-threatened Swansea, and another poor performance at home to West Ham on Saturday would no doubt lead to more rancour among sections of supporters.
The Potters boss said: “It’s a case of expectation. Since I’ve come here I’ve tried to raise expectations and for the most part we’ve matched the expectations of everybody at the club and the supporters.
“This year we’ve still got an opportunity to be in the top 10 but, for whatever reason, maybe the perception is that we haven’t quite achieved what we were capable of.
“The Premier League this year is really strong, certainly the top end is very strong, and very few clubs have been able to take points off the top sides.
“In recent weeks Crystal Palace have managed it but the likes of ourselves haven’t managed it. I think Southampton have struggled to beat top-six clubs.
“If the perception is that the expectation hasn’t been met then there’ll be a little bit of disappointment, and that goes with the territory.
“We’re quite comfortable with that, we understand that, but we’re still trying to achieve things that haven’t been achieved here and we’ve still got the possibility of doing that so we’ll continue in that way.”
Jack Butland will keep his place in goal after returning from 13 months out injured at Swansea, while Jon Walters is the only doubt having missed that match with a knee problem.
West Ham boss Slaven Bilic has scoffed at suggestions that 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 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.
But the West ham boss can welcome back Sam Byram and captain Mark Noble from suspension against Stoke.