AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to finish the regulation season with a victory when they host Championship rivals Stoke City on Saturday (12.30pm kick-off).
The Cherries face the Potters ahead of trying to regain a place in the Premier League having already qualified for the play-offs along with Brentford, Swansea and Barnsley.
Stoke had a promising first half to the 2020/21 season and were in the promotion picture when the teams met at the bet365 Stadium at the start of January.
Junior Stanislas’s late goal condemned the Potters to a 1-0 defeat and they have picked up five wins and seven draws in their past 23 games, slipping off the pace.
Michael O’Neill’s team have not been helped by the long-term absence of striker Tyrese Campbell who suffered a serious knee injury in December.
The 21-year-old frontman had netted seven times and provided five assists before he sustained a complex cartilage problem.
Since going down to the Cherries, Stoke have won four home games and once on their travels, their solitary away victory coming at Bristol City at the start of April.
They head to Vitality Stadium on the back of a six-match winless run which has seen them draw with Preston and Nottingham Forest and lose to Millwall, Birmingham, Coventry and QPR.
STOKE CITY IN PROFILE
Manager: Michael O’Neill (appointed November 2019)
Stand-in captain: John Obi Mikel
Last game: Stoke City 0-2 QPR (Championship)
Leading league goalscorer 2020/21: Nick Powell (12)
League position: 14th
Past six league results: LLDLDL
afcb.co.uk: How would you sum up Stoke’s season?
MS: Disappointing, especially after a really good start.
Given the way they avoided relegation last season there wasn’t much optimism that the club would be in a serious promotion push.
Michael O’Neill’s side had a promising start which soon curtailed after striker Tyrese Campbell was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
afcb.co.uk: Bottom of the table when Michael O’Neill (pictured above) took over in November 2019, what’s your opinion of his tenure to date?
MS: I feel for O’Neill because it isn’t just the first team he has to reshape – he has to reshape the whole culture at the football club.
There is almost a full starting 11 out on loan which tells you how much work he has to do to offload players before he can bring in his own.
afcb.co.uk: Sam Vokes (pictured below) made his breakthrough with the Cherries – how has he fared this season?
MS: It’s been hard for Sam as he’s not really had many chances to make an impact with O’Neill favouring Steven Fletcher as sole striker.
Sam has usually made appearances off the bench which I’m sure he won’t be happy about. I’m sure he will be considering his future at Stoke this summer.
afcb.co.uk: The Potters were in the promotion mix at the halfway stage of the season – can you pinpoint why they have fallen away in the second half?
MS: Key injuries and a lack of goals have been Stoke’s main problems.
Although they have kept a fair few clean sheets (20… 21 is the club record in a season), the simple fact is they aren’t converting at the other end of the pitch.
If you were to take the results from the second half of the season then Stoke would be fourth from bottom – one point off the relegation zone.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Stoke’s one to watch?
MS: It has to be Nick Powell (when he’s fit).
It’s hard to tell how worse off Stoke would have been without Powell’s 12 goals this season, but his creativity and match-winning ability is something Stoke need to build the team around.
afcb.co.uk: Are any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
MS: Nick Powell (pictured above) is a doubt having limped off against QPR last weekend. Striker Tyrese Campbell and defenders James Chester and Morgan Fox are out while midfielder Joe Allen is also unavailable.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
MS: Stoke’s lack of goals could cost them here and I feel Bournemouth may win 2-0.
You can follow Matt on Twitter – @mattsandoz1
Officials: David Webb (referee), Bhupinder Gill (assistant), Adrian Waters (assistant), Andy Davies (fourth official).