Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Marko's Goals Hold Key to Stoke Bid to Finally Crack Top Eight Spot

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Marko's Goals Hold Key to Stoke Bid to Finally Crack Top Eight Spot

Article excerpt

Gone are the days when Stoke City kicked off a new campaign with 40 points and top-flight solidity their first priority - some would say only priority.

Sights are set much higher these days after a hat-trick of ninth-placed finishes during their three years under Mark Hughes.

His creatures of habit have been knocking on that proverbial glass ceiling for some time and fans would be lying if they didn't admit to a little frustration.

Injuries undoubtedly scuppered their chances of finishing higher than ninth last season so, given a fair wind on that front and a promising transfer window, 2016-17 could be the year to do even better.

Not that the opposition is any easier for Stoke as the likes of West Ham and Crystal Palace talk big and try to spend big, while everyone is expecting Everton to reclaim their annual top-eight berth under Ronald Koeman.

Stoke's visit to Goodison for their third game of the season might be a useful barometer as to where the two clubs might end up in the top 10 pecking order.

Last season's clash at Everton resulted in a thrilling 4-3 win for Stoke thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Marko Arnautovic.

There had been talk that the maverick Austrian might be wearing blue against Stoke this time around, but his recent decision to sign a new four-year contract was a welcome surprise to everyone in the Potteries.

An average Euro 2016 maybe ended his dream of moving to a Champions League club - at least for the time being - and that solves a few dilemmas for Hughes.

Arnautovic's departure would have left the Stoke boss seeking a new winger and goalscorer after the crowd favourite ended top-scorer with 11 Premier League strikes last term.

His taste for the big occasion, especially at home, was evident after netting and impressing against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

His new contract also removes the anomaly of losing Arnautovic for just Pounds 12. …

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