CHIEF EXECUTIVE Tony Scholes has reflected on the 'tough start' awaiting Stoke City in the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League . . . but insists the Potters have every reason to look forward to their sixth successive season of top-flight football.
City will face three of the division's big guns in their first five games with an opening day trip to Liverpool, followed by a visit from Manchester City on September 14th and a date in the capital with Arsenal a week later.
Scholes concedes it's a difficult-looking proposition for new manager Mark Hughes and his players, who will face newly-promoted Crystal Palace in their first home game, but is confident they will relish the challenge.
Scholes said: "To start with an away trip to one of the so-called big clubs is a great way to begin our sixth campaign in the Premier League and I think it's a good game for Mark Hughes to begin his career as Stoke manager.
"It's a tough start as we play three of the so-called big clubs in our first five games in Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, but we're looking forward to the challenge."
Ian Holloway's Palace side will be the first visitors to the Britannia Stadium on 24 August and Scholes is acutely aware of the threat posed by newly promoted sides.
He added: "It will be the first time we've played Crystal Palace in the Premier League but we played them last year in the FA Cup.
"They will be up for it as every newly-promoted club is and their fans will be excited about coming up here for that game.
"We've had experience of that in the past when we've played clubs who have just come up - it will be a tough game but we're in a great league and they are all tough games.
"It's a very balanced fixture list; as you run through it there's a good balance between games against the bigger clubs and games against the rest of the clubs."
Other highlights from the fixture list released earlier today include a visit to the Britannia Stadium by Manchester United on February 1st, while local rivals West Brom and Aston Villa are scheduled to travel to the Potteries on October 19th and 21st December respectively.
Ex-United star Hughes will return to Old Trafford on October 26th and go head-to-head with another of his former clubs Chelsea on December 7th at home and on April 5th at Stamford Bridge.
The Potters face Newcastle at St. James Park on Boxing Day and will usher in 2014 with a game against Everton at the Britannia Stadium, while the curtain will come down on Stoke's campaign with a trip to West Brom on May 11th.
Supporters should note that fixtures are subject to change.
To view the full list of fixtures for 2013-14, click HERE