TONY PULIS is bracing himself for the toughest test yet of Stoke City's excellent record against West Bromwich Albion . . . as he waits to discover whether record signing Peter Crouch will be able to spearhead his attack at the Hawthorns.
Pulis' side will face an Albion team which have undoubtedly been the surprise package of the Barclays Premier League season so far and were perched in third place in the table before they suffered a midweek defeat at Swansea City.
Therefore, City's manager know that his players will have it all on if they are to continue the recent resurgence which has seen them take ten points from a possible twelve in the last four matches to lift them up into the top half of the table.
Prior to Albion's 2-1 victory at the Britannia Stadium earlier this year, the Potters had enjoyed much the better of their meetings with the Baggies.
"We're expecting it to be a lot different this time," said Pulis at his pre-match press conference. "They're one of the form teams in the Premier League and they have a fantastic home record, so we know that it's going to be incredibly tough for us.
"They're a bit like Newcastle last year in that they have a great team spirit and their work ethic is first class. I've watched them a couple of times this season and they've played exceptionally well, so they're up there on merit at the moment."
Pulis was full of praise for the job done by Steve Clarke since he succeeded Roy Hodgson as West Brom's manager during the summer.
"I've known Steve a long time and it's great to see him doing such a good job there," he added. "The Chairman also deserves a lot of credit because he has taken a chance on Steve after he had served for a long time as a coach and number two."
The visit to the Hawthorns begins another challenging period for Pulis' side with three of the next four matches away from home with trips to Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur to come in the countdown to the Christmas programme.
"The fixtures have not been at all kind to us this season," he commented. "We have been playing catch up for a long time in terms of us having more away matches than home games. We'd just got it back to a position where it was even with seven at home, seven away, and yet now we go into a run of three away games in the next four.
"When small margins can make a big difference in the Premier League, it has been a disadvantage to us, especially when we have such a good home record.
"I'm not pleased with it, but you just have to get on with it. We've got 19 points from 14 games, which we're pleased with, and we're just hoping we can pick up a few more points before we get the opportunity to even things up again around Christmas."
Pulis will make a late decision on whether to include England striker Peter Crouch who was seeing a dental surgeon as the rest of the squad prepared for the game.
Crouch lost two teeth and suffered damage to two others in a collision with Fabricio Coloccini in Wednesday's game against Newcastle.
But City's manager revealed: "When I spoke to Crouchy, he was very positive about wanting to play, so we'll have to wait and see.
"It depends how comfortable he is with the brace they are looking to fit to help secure the teeth and allow them to settle down before he has an operation at a later stage.
"He will meet up with the rest of the squad at our hotel in the morning and I'll have a chat with him. I'll see how he is then and that will probably determine whether he features in the game, but I am quite hopeful."