Strugglers Stoke can't find goalscorer

STOKE City manager Tony Pulis is a proven battler, but even he must accept that three of the four clubs stranded at the foot of the Division One table look destined for the drop.

STOKE City manager Tony Pulis is a proven battler, but even he must accept that three of the four clubs stranded at the foot of the Division One table look destined for the drop, writes Tony Garnett.

Ipswich have lost on their visits to three of the clubs in the bottom five, drawn at Brighton and have yet to visit Sheffield Wednesday.

The 2-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium in September, while George Burley was still in charge, was one of the most depressing results of the season.

The Potters, who went down by the only goal to Burnley last weekend, are short of goals although Chris Greenacre's late strike was enough to beat Brighton at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday.

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The Stoke defence is built round skipper Peter Handyside, who served Grimsby Town so well for so long, and Belarus international Sergei Shtaniuk from Minsk. Clive Clarke returns to the reckoning after a long lay-off with a knee ligament injury.

Goalkeeper Mark Crossley yesterday rejoined Stoke from Middlesbrough for a second loan spell. The 33-year-old has agreed a one-month deal with the Potters and will face Ipswich today.

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The former Welsh international, who made one appearance for Stoke during a short loan spell which expired in November, has been forced to play second fiddle to Australia international Mark Schwarzer.

Steve Banks, once of Blackpool and Bolton, stands down while Finnish international Jani Viander, whose previous club was HJK Helsinki, is now No. 3. Neil Cutler, who played against Ipswich in the autumn, is currently on loan at Swansea.

Full-back Wayne Thomas has been a £200,000 bargain since his move from Torquay but is struggling with a calf strain. Frazer Richardson has done well since arriving on loan from Leeds and will be given his chance.

The Icelanders Bjarni Gudjonsson and Brynjar Gunnarsson are key men in midfield and there is a third Icelander, Petur Marteinsson. James O'Connor, a 23-year-old Irishman, is a real workhorse and a credit to the club's youth policy.

The tall Peter Hoekstra, capped five times by Holland in his Ajax and PSV Eindhoven days, has been hard hit by injury since he joined Stoke. He can operate on either wing but played only the first half against Brighton on Wednesday night before being replaced by Lewis Neal, who has progressed through the youth scheme and looked sharp. Stoke have been short of goals in recent weeks although they have several options up front.

Tommy Mooney was on loan at the Britannia Stadium when Ipswich were the autumn visitors. Since then he has done well for Sheffield United. Stoke look to players like Greenacre, who joined the club from Mansfield Town in the summer. Last season he had 20 goals by Christmas and was named in the PFA Division Three side. He has been plagued by injury since then.

Andy Cooke is a burly front runner who cost £350,000 from Burnley while Chris Iwelumo, a 24-year-old Scot, has played for St Mirren and AFG Aahrus in Denmark prior to joining Stoke for £250,000. He has had loan spells at York and Cheltenham.

Lee Mills, who has twice moved for a million pounds in his career, has played for Wolves, Derby County, Port Vale, Bradford City, Manchester City (loan), Portsmouth, Coventry City and now Stoke.

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