Stoke boss Mark Hughes targets 'hugely important' next two games
Mark Hughes believes Stoke's next two games could go a long way to defining their season.
Hughes has guided the Potters to ninth in the Premier League in each of the past three years and, after a poor start to the current campaign, they once again occupy that position.
They host seventh-place Everton on Wednesday before travelling to eighth-place West Brom at the weekend. With the gaps to those sides eight and four points respectively, the coming days could be crucial to their hopes of finishing higher.
Hughes said: "I said a few weeks ago that if you look at the Premier League, the top six are away from the rest of us but we are all battling now for a top-seven or eight finish if we can.
"We have been ninth in the last three seasons, and the next two games are hugely important for us. They can determine whether we can finish above ninth, which is our target."
Everton have started to gain some momentum themselves having won five and lost just one of their last seven Premier League games. They are still five points off the top six but a push to break into that group is not inconceivable.
Hughes has been impressed by their recent spell, which came after a poor run of just one win in 10 league games which led to questioning of manager Ronald Koeman.
The Stoke boss said: "There was a little bit of pressure on Ronald initially, but that is the nature of the game. If you don't get results then people ask questions - I have had it here too.
"Sometimes you need to give people time to get their thoughts in place and make the impact they feel they can make.
"He has been in the league for a good period now and he knows what it takes to be successful here. He has changed things around a little bit, brought younger players in and he is making a real impact now."
Everton's most notable recent result saw them beat Manchester City 4-0 and Hughes, who could hand a debut to new signing Saido Berahino, is wary of their threat.
Hughes, speaking at a press conference covered by the club's website, said: "Every team in the league has players that can hurt you and, in fairness, Everton have more than most.
"They have dangers through the middle and out wide, and they are in a good place at the moment.
"They have real momentum behind them, and they will come here in good spirits. It is down to us though to ruin their evening on Wednesday."
Everton boss Koeman has expressed his delight at the improved defensive work that has been a key part of his side's recent upturn in Premier League form.
The Toffees are unbeaten in their last five league matches, winning four including each of their last three outings, and have kept clean sheets in each of the victories.
And when former defender Koeman was asked ahead of the match whether the clean sheets had been particularly pleasing for him of late, the Dutchman said: "Yes - overall, I think we are defending well.
"It is not easy to score against us. The team is really improved in defensive organisation. I think we are improved in defending set plays, which was one of the biggest issues compared to last season.
"That is (from) working hard, and it's good, because that is always the point to start from - not from the front, always from behind.
"It is giving everybody good confidence."