Top 10 still the target for Stoke

Monday 29th July 2013 14:46

Mark Hughes: New man in charge at Stoke City

Mark Hughes: New man in charge at Stoke City

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Stoke City FanZoner Tim Ward is targeting a top-10 finish in Mark Hughes' first season in charge at the Britannia Stadium.

How has your pre-season gone?

It's certainly been a little different. It still seems strange seeing Mark Hughes talking about the Stoke squad, rather than Pulis.

We've won a couple and lost to Houston Dynamos. Like everyone says, pre-season matches don't really mean much, but we seem to being playing on a floor a little more. We even started a move versus Dynamos with some passes out of defence that weren't 60-yard hoofs.

Are you happy with how things have shaped up in terms of transfers - both in and out?

I'm very happy so far. Erik Peters is a Dutch international, and Marc Muniesa was a member of Spain's Under-21 Championship squad and has played for Barcelona. And, more importantly, BOTH can play at full back - the first natural full backs we've actually signed in seven years.

It was also good to see Jermaine Pennant re-sign for us, while we've also cut a little deadwood like Dean Whitehead, Rory Delap and Carlo Nash.

Is your current manager the right man for the job?

At this stage, I have no idea! It honestly could go either way - we might have made a huge mistake hiring Hughes and a season of struggles awaits, or it might prove to be the change needed to finally get that elusive top-10 finish

Dare to dream - if everything clicked into place what's the best you could hope for?

A top-10 finish would be ideal. We've come close a couple of times, but not quite got there. A good cup run or two would be great as well - as our run to the FA Cup final in 2011 really did boost everyone connected with the club

Back to reality - what are your realistic expectations for the new campaign?

I expect us to have a period of struggling, but ultimately have a satisfactory if unexciting season. We could finish anywhere between ninth and 20th. I hope we can make a cup quarter-final if we get decent draws.

Who will visiting scouts be keeping an eye on this season?

I'm surprised that Asmir Begovic seems to be staying this summer if I'm honest - especially after we bought Jack Butland in January.

Begovic was the reason we stayed up last season, and I would expect him to attract a bigger club at some point next season.

Ryan Shawcross is another destined for bigger things and will leave Stoke at some point in the next three years, so I would reckon someone will want a look at his progress this season.

Steven N'Zonzi (if he stays) may also attract some attention.

If you had to pick one player who'd be fit for every minute of every game who would it be?

Begovic. Although Sorensen (and now Butland) is a more than capable replacement, I dread to think what would've have happened if Asmir had missed a few games last season.

On the flip side (without being cruel!), who is the player with most to prove?

Everyone! I'm sure all the players will want to prove to Hughes that they deserve to be kept on and start every match. Begovic and Butland will battle it out to be number one; Robert Huth and Shawcross will want to get their partnership back on track; Pennant will want to prove that Pulis was wrong to keep him out of the club; Peter Crouch needs a better season; Wilson Palacios has been a huge disappointment so far for Stoke - so will want to get his career back up and running; Kenwyne Jones, Jon Walters and Cameron Jerome will want to challenge to start up front; and Brek Shea will want to improve on his handful of appearances at the back end of last season.

If you could sign any one player from any other side in the same division who would you plump for?

Ignoring the big names like Bale, Van Persie, Mata et al - obviously they're not in the same division anymore, but James McCarthy and Callum McManaman from Wigan Athletic looked good last season. Michu was quality last season, too.

If you only win one game all season who would you take three points from?

Manchester United. I think we've only taken one point from them since we were promoted, so it'd be great to finally beat them. We always seem to be unlucky at Stamford Bridge too (except that 7-0), so a win there would be marvellous!

You can follow Tim on Twitter at @timwardwrites - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too for links to all the latest blogs.

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