Hull City-Stoke City Preview

The Associated Press

Marco Silva has been a revelation at Hull City, who face Stoke City on Saturday.

When the Portuguese manager took over at Hull in the first week of January, he arrived at a club who appeared destined for the drop. Bottom of the Premier League, with a mutinous fan-base and a squad that lacked anything resembling top-flight depth, Hull were a side in need of a miracle.

Indeed a "miracle" is what Silva himself admitted he'd need to keep the Tigers up - a claim that only seemed more prescient when his best player Robert Snodgrass was sold to West Ham United weeks later.

Yet, while Hull (8-6-18) are not yet safe, they are outside of the bottom three with just six games remaining. Even if the Humberside club do succumb to relegation from this position, Silva has proved beyond doubt that he is a management talent to be reckoned with.

But win on Saturday against out-of-form Stoke City (9-9-14) and survival will move within touching distance of a club who are two points ahead of the drop zone going into the weekend's fixtures. The problem for Silva is that his "miracle" has occurred almost exclusively at the compact KCom Stadium.

Remarkably, Hull have picked up 16 points from a possible 18 at home under Silva. Yet on the road, the games since his arrival have yielded just one point from six matches. Continue such a trend and Hull will likely survive by the skin of their teeth, but failing to improve their away form would place enormous pressure on each of the remaining three matches at the KCom - a run of fixtures that ends with the arrival of Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of the season.

Pick up three points on the road and Hull can really start to dream of another season in the top-flight - and a game against Mark Hughes' horribly out-of-form Stoke represents a terrific opportunity to do just that.

Hull's task will be made all the easier by the return of a number of players from injury, with Harry Maguire and Dieumerci Mbokani facing late fitness tests.

"It is important that I have problems in deciding the starting 11 because we have many players available," Silva said.

"It is better for the players to have competition for places as well and we have that for many positions in the starting 11. This situation can only mean that we all improve. This is a normal situation in football and it is good that we now have this."

Saturday's hosts Stoke City go into the match having lost four on the bounce. And while a gap of eight points between themselves and the bottom three is likely to be enough for now, Hughes will be keen to reach the 40-point mark (the tally the typically guarantees survival) as quickly as possible.

The Potters will have to do without two of their most important players for Saturday's match however, with Ibrahim Afellay likely to miss the remainder of the season and Joe Allen missing for another week with a knock.

"With there only being six games of the season left it is unlikely that he (Affelay) will feature again unfortunately, but we will wait and see about that," Hughes said. "Joe is out of the game this weekend, but all being well he will be available for the match against his former side next Saturday."

Hull have failed to win on each of their four Premier League trips to Stoke, scoring just once across those four matches.

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