March 15, 2018 / 3:38 AM / a year ago

Soccer: Stoke eye chance to ease relegation fears

LONDON (Reuters) - Stoke City have not finished lower than 14th in their nine seasons in the Premier League, never failing to reach the 40-point mark usually associated with guaranteed survival.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Stoke City vs Manchester City - bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent, Britain - March 12, 2018 Stoke City's Kurt Zouma looks dejected Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Those marks look an awfully long way away as they prepare to host Everton on Saturday in a slimmed down weekend Premier League programme — due to the FA Cup quarter-finals — featuring several clubs in danger of the drop.

Stoke, who sacked manager Mark Hughes in January and replaced him with Paul Lambert, are second-bottom with 27 points after six games without a win and the trapdoor is creaking open.

With eight games remaining, though, The Potters and third-bottom Crystal Palace, who visit Huddersfield Town also on Saturday, still have time to turn things around.

The same cannot be said for basement club West Bromwich Albion for whom defeat at Bournemouth would surely have even their most optimistic fans planning for the second-tier.

Stoke’s on-loan defender Kurt Zouma, part of two Chelsea league title-winning squads, says an improved defensive record under Lambert offers hope of a strong run-in to the season.

“We are still only one point away from (the clubs in the safety zone) and we know we have some very big games still to come,” the French defender told the club website.

“We haven’t won too many games of late but we are playing a lot better than before, are tighter at the back and conceding a lot less goals.

“That should give us confidence and we need to use it as a platform to secure the wins we require starting with Everton at home this weekend.”

Victory would lift Stoke above Southampton, and potentially Crystal Palace, and put them level on 30 points with West Ham United who have a break in their relegation battle this weekend.

Palace, who have just emerged battered from a cruel run of fixtures, and luck, travel to 15th-placed Huddersfield knowing a win would guarantee a move out of the bottom three.

Roy Hodgson’s side are on a seven-match run without a win but in their last three games they suffered single-goal defeats by Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea.

With the FA Cup and relegation battle taking most of the attention this weekend, Liverpool could steal a march on their fellow top-four contenders when they host Watford.

Juergen Klopp’s side dropped to fourth, below Spurs, after last week’s defeat at second-placed Manchester United but would regain that spot if they make it 10 wins in their last 11 top-flight clashes with Watford.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will be licking his lips at the opportunity to move clear at the top of this season’s Premier League scoring chart. He is level on 24 with Tottenham’s Harry Kane who faces a layoff with an ankle injury.

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris

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