If you're looking for a glut of goals, the Britannia Stadium would probably be your last port of call at the moment.

The statistics speak for themselves. Eleven of Stoke's last 13 games finished 1-0 - the other two were goalless draws. The Potters have not scored in 365 minutes of Championship football and haven't scored more than once in a game since September 25.

If that sounds like relegation form, think again. Stoke may have scored fewer goals than any other Championship side but no team has conceded fewer goals either.

Stoke's Scrooge-like defending has kept them safe and sound among the mid-table fodder, but it goes without saying that they could use some flair and firepower.

"They've been very solid at the back but really need to strengthen up front," agrees Martin Spinks of the Stoke Sentinel. "At the moment they are trying to keep it tight and nick a goal, not unlike Arsenal used to do. Nowadays it's 'One-nil to the Stoke' instead.

"At the moment Ade Akinbiyi leads the line and he will probably be up front on his own on Sunday too. Stoke have been linked with Bobby Zamora but so far the only player they've signed is Jason Jarrett, a midfielder on loan from Wigan.

"Peter Hoekstra and Kris Commons gave them a bit of flair last season but both left during the summer and Stoke have missed their creativity.

"Stoke went top after a good start to the season but they were always in a false position. They have a mid-table squad and have always needed to strengthen."

Akinbiyi endured deflating spells at Leicester and Crystal Palace but has been far happier at the Britannia Stadium. Nonetheless, his strike rate of two goals in the last 17 games will not give many defenders sleepless nights.

Few players are as honest as the 30-year-old Londoner and he will plug away at Highbury while the back four roll up their sleeves and attempt to keep Arsenal at bay. Stoke's hopes of racking up another clean sheet received good and bad news this week.

"Michael Duberry has been on loan but he was recalled by Leeds a week early," explains Spinks. "However, Gerry Taggart could return. He is Stoke's defensive kingpin but has been out since early November after an ankle operation.

"With Clint Teale suspended, Taggart will probably be rushed back into the starting line-up after playing for the reserves on Tuesday. He's a big favourite with the fans."

Another player who has won the hearts and minds of the Stoke faithful is John Halls. The Islington-born defender left Arsenal for the Potteries just over a year ago and has excelled in the Championship.

"Halls has been injured but he is training again and he says he wants to play as long as his back doesn't flair up. I think he will make it, he is desperate to play and his family will be in the Stoke end at Highbury.

"He's been a big hit at Stoke and there are reports that other clubs are looking at him. I'm not surprised because he's been a revelation. His control on the ball is his biggest asset and he loves to get forward from right-back."

But whether or not Halls makes an emotional return to Highbury, Spinks does not expect a fairytale ending for the former Gunner and his new club.

"There was some optimism when the draw was made last month because Arsenal had been struggling a bit," he says. "But Stoke have lost the last three games and they don't really look like scoring.

"The crowd had a bit of a go after the last game - a defeat against Burnley - and losing Duberry hasn't helped.

"There is plenty of pessimism now but it will be a great occasion for the supporters and hopefully the players can put up a show. After all, they might not get another chance to play somewhere like Highbury."


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7 Jan 2005