Stoke being close to evens to beat Aston Villa at home forces Michael Lintorn to again bang the "underappreciated Potters" drum...
"Villa have visited eight of the teams in the top two-thirds of the table (13th and higher) and have collected a single point from a possible 24."
Stoke 1.875/6 v Aston Villa 5.59/2; The Draw 3.55/2
This writer's season-long certainty that Stoke will complete a hat-trick of top-half finishes was placed under its severest scrutiny recently as they lost three successive Premier League matches 3-0 at the same time as exiting both cups.
However, the Potters signalled their return to form two weeks ago with a 3-1 win at Bournemouth which instantly restored them to the top ten, before their FA Cup omission allowed them an overdue battery-charging fortnight off in Dubai after a lengthy spell of playing twice a week.
They definitely don't restart with a clean bill of health though. Ryan Shawcross, Glen Johnson, Geoff Cameron and Marc Wilson remain sidelined with Phil Bardsley and Marc Muniesa further doubts as part of a debilitating defensive injury crisis, while Charlie Adam is also absent higher up the pitch.
Whereas Stoke had their best result of the campaign in terms of win margin last time out at Bournemouth, Aston Villa head into this all-midlands showdown fresh from what was comfortably their worst: a 6-0 home humbling at the hands of a far-from-flawless Liverpool team.
Three different Reds players scored their first Premier League goals of 2015/16 - Kolo Toure, Nathaniel Clyne and Emre Can - and Divick Origi netted within seconds of replacing fellow goal-grabber Daniel Sturridge on a day in which the few who refused to accept that Villa are going down were finally forced to concede.
Well, that isn't entirely true as Remi Garde has vowed to fight until survival is a mathematical impossibility, but even he did so in a manner which questioned whether the squad at his disposal share his commitment and desire to fight.
Injury will deny Jordan Amavi, Carlos Sanchez, Jack Grealish, Adama Traore and Libor Kozak the opportunity to prove their manager wrong. Jordan Ayew is still suspended due to his senseless sending off at West Ham, but Gabriel Agbonlahor and Rudy Gestede are fit to ensure that there are some options up front.
With ten places separating these sides and both putting in such contrasting performances last time out, it seems bizarre that Stoke are available to back at as enticing a price as 1.855/6.
Admittedly, this hasn't been a vintage season for Mark Hughes' men at the Britannia Stadium, with them being beaten as often as they have won in the Premier League (five of each), but they have defeated both of the bottom-six clubs who have shown up in Staffordshire thus far.
They also triumphed 1-0 in the reverse fixture at Villa Park, which was their fourth victory in five meetings with the former kings of the midlands. Villa have visited eight of the teams in the top two-thirds of the table (13th and higher) and have collected a single point from a possible 24.
Pretty much the only positive trend is that, despite being wretched for almost every minute between August and February, just one of the seven sides that they have faced twice has done the double over them, yet even that is cancelled out by it happening against their previous opponents Liverpool.
Over 2.5 Goals
Stoke were once the rulers of Unders-ville, but their past four Premier League games all served up three or more and 2.3811/8 seems a huge price on that becoming five given both their defensive sick list and the six largely shocking goals that their guests spilled when last in action.
Villa have leaked at least twice in seven of those eight encounters away to clubs in the top two-thirds, being breached three times or more in half, while they have surprisingly struck at four of the five top-half grounds that they have travelled to, firing six times in total in those contests.
Back Stoke to win @ 1.875/6