Stoke City eager to nail down points against West Ham

While Saturday's fixture against West Ham is the Potters' penultimate home game of the season, with the final one being against Arsenal, the Hammers offer Mark Hughes' men their best chance of a positive result.

It's the least that Stoke fans deserve, having had to put up with a season of such disappointment. With many in the stands turning against the manager, he will be eager to secure three more points ahead of his summer meetings with the club's owners.

West Ham are enduring a similar fate this term with Slaven Bilic's honeymoon period well and truly over amid continued uncertainty over his own future at the club. In that sense, the stage is well and truly set for an afternoon of anxiety for both managers who, in truth, would arguably each settle for a point before a ball is even kicked.

It's almost certain that Jack Butland will start in goal for Stoke, having successfully returned to the first-team fold for the first time in more than a year with no reports of any ill effects. His performance in the 2-0 loss to Swansea in the last game wasn't at the level expected, but he will continue regardless to play himself back to form and fitness ahead of the new season in August.

In front of him, one player who should perhaps be taken out of the firing line is Erik Pieters, who has found himself suffering a crisis of confidence and form in recent months. Usually a dependable option at left-back, he is playing nowhere near the level he is capable of. While some players' mistakes go unpunished, most of his are leading to attempts on goal. As ever, Marc Muniesa is waiting in the wings for a chance to impress, but having done so in the Hull game only to find himself dropped the following week, he won't be holding his breath.

The midfield continues to be the biggest area of contention and change, with any combination of Geoff Cameron, Joe Allen, Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam likely to feature -- the only real mainstay being U.S. international Cameron. The manager's preference for getting Allen on the pitch would appear to suggest that particular duo will be the one that starts the match, but with Hughes switching between two and three in the middle, nothing can be taken for granted.

Further upfield, the selection of Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic is a no-brainer, so the main question there is whether Saido Berahino continues to be selected despite ongoing concerns about his condition. At one point he looked a perfect fit for the Potters, but a series of underwhelming showings have left a number of fans wondering if his signing was particularly well-advised.

The odds are that he, too, will be given the rest of the season to find his form and fitness, which will continue to be at the expense of the side overall. They continue to flounder with his inclusion and the associated changes to tactics required to accommodate him. Perhaps the only glimmer of hope for him in this fixture is his rich vein of form against the Hammers, but given he is without a goal in 14 months, it is not something he, nor his manager, will pin their hopes on.

Instead, Hughes is more likely to take comfort from that fact that his back line is unlikely to face the aerial battering ram that is Andy Carroll, who would have undoubtedly benefitted from their comical attempts at defending from set plays.

While historical results in the fixture bear little significance in the overall scheme of his preparation, the manager will also take some encouragement from his record over West Ham in recent years. During his time at Stoke, he is yet to be beaten by the West Ham, with Saturday's meeting the seventh such one during his time at the club. That's a record he will be more than keen to maintain.

There's not too much expectation of a result in the stands, though, and in truth, any such outcome is unlikely to convince a decent majority of fans that he deserves to stay at the club beyond the end of the season.