Pulis ready for battle
Stoke boss Tony Pulis accepts his side are up against "overwhelming odds" as they host runaway Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United this weekend.
United, 12 points clear at the top of table with seven games to play, are striding towards a record-extending 20th title while the Potters struggle at the opposite end.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men did suffer defeat to rivals Manchester City in their derby last Monday but Pulis sees that as a mere blip.
He said: "I think you have got to recognise the strength they have got.
"You have got to recognise you are competing against overwhelming odds in a lot of respects.
"That is why they are champions-elect - they have got the best team and the best players.
"We have to pick a team we think will work as hard as they possibly can to nullify their strengths, and also give us an opportunity to compete at the other end of the pitch as well."
Alarm bells have started ringing at the Britannia Stadium after a dismal run of just one win in 13 league games. They have kept only one clean sheet in the last 14 and scored just two in the last six.
But in a 21-year managerial career that has taken him through the divisions, Pulis feels he is equipped to deal with the challenge.
"I think publicity-wise it is the hardest time I've had - but I have had tougher times with teams that haven't been as good as this one, and you've had to eke out results," said Pulis, who has managed six clubs.
"But everything that goes with the Premier League is magnified and multiplied enormously.
"We have to concentrate on ourselves and not take too much notice of what is going on around us."
Stoke will check on the fitness of midfielder Matthew Etherington (back) and defender Marc Wilson (back/hamstring).
Both players were forced off in the out-of-form Potters' loss to Aston Villa last weekend.
Midfielder Glenn Whelan has trained this week and is fit to return after a back problem.
Javier Hernandez has vowed to do everything possible to assist Manchester United's title quest even if he wishes he could get a few more starts.
The Mexican made his 30th appearance of the season during Monday's derby defeat to City at Old Trafford, yet of those, only 19 have been starts.
Little wonder therefore he has been linked with moves to various clubs this summer as speculation intensifies about the potential arrivals of Robert Lewandowski and Atletico Madrid's much sought-after Radamel Falcao.
But no-one could ever accuse Hernandez of not being a team man.
"All the players in the world want to start every single game," Hernandez said. "I am happy to be at this club.
"Of course I would love to start more often but I will keep the same attitude.
"When the gaffer wants me on the bench or the starting line-up I will do my best. My attitude is going to be very good because I want to respect the club, my team-mates and the coach."
With just six points from their last 13 games, Pulis' team are embroiled in a relegation scrap no-one at the Britannia Stadium anticipated.
And it seems to have made the Stoke fans question Pulis' tactics in a manner they did not feel a need to following his return to the club in 2006.
Yet Rio Ferdinand has been to Stoke enough times not to get drawn into feeling United can stabilise their own campaign in a degree of comfort.
"Stoke isn't hostile in terms of an anger element. It's just a real football place," said Ferdinand.
"Their fans are very vocal for their team and they're ramped up, which ups the ante a bit.
"In the last few seasons Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job.
"When you look at the budget they've more than overproduced and you wouldn't expect to be where they, but this league throws up crazy stuff sometimes.
"Nevertheless, they always put on a tigerish performance against us - we don't expect anything different this time."
Ashley Young will miss Manchester United's trip.
Young is facing two weeks out with an ankle injury sustained during Monday's defeat to Manchester City.
Jonny Evans (hamstring) should be fit, while skipper Nemanja Vidic (calf) returns to training on Saturday. Paul Scholes (knee) is definitely out.