Hughes urges Stoke's leaky defence to cut out 'catastrophic errors'
Stoke's season will improve provided they cut out their "catastrophic errors" in defence, according to boss Mark Hughes.
The Potters host Watford on Tuesday night still in the bottom half of the table after a 4-2 loss to Chelsea when they shipped a quartet of goals for the fifth occasion this season, and the eighth time in 2016.
Hughes has injected flair and creativity since taking charge in Staffordshire in 2013 from Tony Pulis, but the solidity that became the hallmark of the previous regime has been lost and, at the Premier League's halfway point, only the bottom three and the Hornets themselves possessed a poorer goal difference.
It is therefore no surprise that Hughes is craving a better balance for his 14th-placed team as one of his new year's resolutions.
"In key moments in games, defensively, we have to be a lot sounder than we are at the moment," the Welshman said.
"We're giving goals up too readily. We'll address that. A lot of the elements of our play, apart from that, are very good.
"We had a good result against Watford not too long back. We just need to revisit our thoughts on that one and play as well as we know we can, but clearly take out the catastrophic errors."
Hughes was unlikely to be speaking about goalkeeper Lee Grant in that regard given he made several saves to stop Chelsea further enhancing their margin of victory on New Year's Eve.
Grant's loan deal from Derby is due to expire after the Watford contest, though Rams boss Steve McClaren stated at the weekend that "a compromise" has been reached for him to remain at the bet365 Stadium.
That has been Hughes' top priority for this transfer window given Jack Butland's latest setback from an ankle injury which, his manager concedes, could even keep him out for the remainder of the campaign.
Butland has not played since injuring himself when away with England in March and having undergone a further operation last month, with an initial two-to-three-month timescale on his return, Hughes has conceded there is a possibility he will not be seen again until next season.
"We're in a little bit of a situation with Jack being unavailable for a number of months - he may well not come back this season," Hughes said.
"We hope he may well get back April, May time, we'll see. We're more comfortable with the situation now than before, when he was breaking down and we didn't get to the bottom of what was happening. I think we're over that now and we know exactly what the problem was."
However, Butland himself seems keen to appear again this season having tweeted "not true" when replying to a fan who had asked him to comment on the season-ending suggestion on Monday.
Against Watford, Marko Arnautovic will return from suspension as Stoke look to secure their first victory in six games, yet Jonathan Walters remains a concern with the knee problem which kept him out at Stamford Bridge.
Watford, meanwhile, could still be without nine players for the match as they attempt to bounce back from their 4-1 hiding at home to Tottenham.
Juan Zuniga is unlikely to feature after feeling pain in his ankle during the warm-up against Spurs while Nordin Amrabat was taken off with a leg injury in the second half.
The pair join a long list of absentees that include Adrian Mariappa, Roberto Pereyra, Isaac Success, Daryl Janmaat, Valon Behrami and Stefano Okaka.
Midfielder Ben Watson also missed the defeat to Tottenham due to personal reasons.
The injury crisis has taken its toll on Watford, who have slipped to 13th in the Premier League table after winning only one of their last seven games, but boss Walter Mazzarri is backing his team to climb out of their current slump once key players return from injury.
"I'm not happy because we should have got more points with some of the games compared to the position we are now, and be even higher," Mazzarri said.
"But for sure we are in line with the objective of this year. At the beginning of the season we did much better than expected.
"I think if we get the injured players back and get over this negative moment, which every team can have, then we can get back again even higher in the league."