Is Mark Hughes on borrowed time at Stoke City?

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 22 December 2017, 16:02

After a win over Swansea had been Stoke’s only points in the last six matches, it was perhaps understandable that boss Mark Hughes lost his rag.

As their former player Marko Arnautovic put the previously struggling West Ham 2-0 up at the Bet365 stadium, the fiery Hughes unleashed a rant at the Austrian international, leaving him in no uncertain terms what he thought of his “ungrateful” attitude.

Mark Hughes

However after already having received the dreaded “vote of confidence” from the club’s board, the Welshman was in no position to give any indication that he was losing a grip on his own behaviour and the situation itself. The Potters sit just one point above the relegation zone, and reports suggest that the club will lose patience with the boss if they end up in the bottom three after Saturday’s match.

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With likely replacements Sam Allardyce, David Moyes and Alan Pardew all now in employment, Stoke could well look to former manager Tony Pulis to save them from the drop, a man who was sacked from West Brom just a few weeks ago. This has led to some labelling the encounter as the “Tony Pulis derby”, as if the match needed any extra spice.

Indeed, the match is a real six-pointer, with away side West Brom just two points below their midlands rivals in 19th place. The news doesn’t get any better for Hughes when examining his head-to-head record with Pardew either. The Welshman has won just five of his fifteen duels with the newly-appointed Baggies boss, with no draws ever recorded between the two.

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There won’t be any hangovers for West Brom to deal with either, as Pardew immediately ruled out a Christmas party on his arrival at the club, not deeming it appropriate considering their league position. Instead the players enjoyed a more demure Christmas lunch on Thursday, an event that their manager believes will serve to increase team spirit.

“Sometimes when you’re looking for a team to come out of its shell a little bit you can’t have constant pressure,” the boss revealed to the Daily Mirror when questioned about his decision. “The mental side of this game has been highlighted this year in a lot of areas with a lot of players having problems and it’s our duty as managers to sometimes relieve that pressure.

“It was a nice little thing that we did. We’re not trying to be flippant, it was just a nice moment for them to come together and have a meal.”

Compared to the touchline ranting of Hughes, the West Brom camp seems remarkable serene ahead of such a tough fixture but – make no mistake – the pressure is still very much on for Pardew as he remains winless since he took the job in late November. Of course, results don’t tell the whole story as the Baggies took a well-earned point at home to Newcastle and put up a brave fight in a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United last weekend, but he simply must start to put points on the board in order to avoid relegation.

Only one of these men could walk away from the match with three points in the bag, and despite reports to the contrary, Hughes refuses to believe that the game will be decisive in terms of his future.

“I don't think that is where we are at,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “A lot of comments come from people who have not watched our games - they are picking up hearsay and embellishing it. You guys in the media set timelines on it but that is not what is happening in the corridors here in my view.”

Whether he is right or not is impossible to tell at this point, but it would be unwise to bet against a sacking if Stoke end up in the bottom three at the start of 2018.

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