Stoke v Dynamo Kiev preview
Unbeaten Stoke only need a draw against Dynamo Kiev to book their last-32 spot in the Europa League.
By Jonathan Jurejko
Last Updated: 01/12/11 11:22am
Unbeaten Stoke City only need a draw against Ukrainian visitors Dynamo Kiev to book their last-32 spot in the Europa League on Thursday night.
The Potters have enjoyed their return to European competition after a 35-year wait - winning seven of their eight matches to put them on the brink of qualification for the knockout stage.
And they are still to taste a home defeat in six matches since making their continental debut in 1972.
Boss Tony Pulis believes this is the biggest game of the club's short European history and has urged the Britannia to create a rocking "cup final" atmosphere to boost his players.
But the Europa League has proved a bittersweet experience for Pulis and his men.
Despite their fantastic success in the competition, it has proved a distraction from the bread and butter of the Premier League, with the Potters losing each of their top-flight games following their four group matches so far.
A crucial 3-1 win over Blackburn on Saturday stopped the rot of four straight league losses - where they conceded a whopping 14 goals in the process.
Now Pulis will be hoping his team can progress from Group E by keeping their first clean sheet in all competitions since the comfortable 3-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv on October 20.
However, the Welshman knows Stoke have to be wary of Kiev and particularly the attacking threat posed by Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko.
Shevchenko, the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker, has yet to find the Europa League net this term.
But the 35-year-old certainly has the pedigree, and perhaps a point to prove to English fans after his miserable spell at Stamford Bridge, to fire Kiev to their first win on English soil in 11 attempts.
Full-back Andy Wilkinson is Stoke's major injury doubt for the crunch clash as he looks to shake off niggling calf and knee injuries.
If Wilkinson, who passed a late fitness test to play against Blackburn, does not make the game then he will be replaced by Ryan Shotton.
Pulis has already confirmed Asmir Begovic will replace Thomas Sorensen in goal, with England centre-half Matthew Upson also set to start.
Kiev are missing key defender Goran Popov who recently had surgery to clear up an ongoing knee complaint.