As footballing hoodoos go, Stoke City’s seemingly unbreakable psychological hold over West Bromwich Albion is one of the most compelling in recent years.
The Potters have maintained a vice-like grip over fixtures with the Baggies and have won five of the last six clashes between the two clubs.
In fact, Albion have come out on top against Stoke only twice in the last 25 meetings – but they simply can’t afford the Potters’ domination to continue tomorrow at The Hawthorns.
With only eight games remaining, Albion are seven points adrift of safety and survival is fast becoming an impossible task. In fact, another defeat to Stoke tomorrow could hammer the final nail in the coffin of Tony Mowbray’s side.
Mowbray is not one for superstition and does not feel the Stoke hoodoo will have any bearing on the clash although it is an albatross he would love to see disappear from around his side’s neck.
“I don’t think it matters on Saturday, and yet records keep going and going, and I am sure it has repeatedly thrown up for however many years it has been going on,” he said.
“All I know is that we are expecting a tough game at the weekend.”
Almost as much has been made of the clash of styles between the two sides as the hoodoo.
While Mowbray is totally committed to his pure form of football, Stoke are known for their direct and uncompromising style.
Their physical approach and reliance on set pieces has certainly brought them better fortune than Albion but Mowbray will not compromise his beliefs and, while he respects Stoke’s achievements, don’t expect a Mowbray side to adopt a similar approach.
“It will be an interesting game and contrasting styles of play,” he said.
“As Bolton showed in our last game, it can be just as profitable to play a counter-attack style and to play more direct because you can create more goalscoring opportunities. We understand that.
“It isn’t the way we choose to play but I would never criticise another team’s style of play. It is what they choose and if it gets them some rewards then good luck to them.
“That is the style of play they have chosen and it has worked reasonably well for them in the Premier League this year.
“Our style is different because we try to build up through the midfield and into the forward areas. What is right and wrong? It doesn’t matter. We are both trying to win football matches.”
Mowbray believes the key to success for Albion will be how well they defend those set pieces and particularly the howitzer long throws of Rory Delap.
The recent return from injury of Jonas Olsson will bolster an Albion defence that has been more than generous in the last few months and Mowbray said his side would be fully prepared for what they will face.
“We coped very well with their set pieces and long throws earlier in the season at the Britannia,” he said. “They didn’t really give us too many problems that day. We have to be as effective again defending them at home.
“In my mind it will come down to how we defend the directness of the balls coming into our box because we know they will be coming, and whether we can be creative, clever and patient enough to break them down.
“These are the questions we have to face at the weekend. We are fully aware of Stoke’ strengths and weaknesses but it is easier said than done.
“We have to work hard against a well-organised and structured defensive block.
“We know we will have plenty of the ball against Stoke and it is whether we can be creative and patient enough to make some opportunities.”