Mark Hughes and Stoke City's key games left this year

After a 2-0 win over Sunderland, Stoke have moved away from the relegation spots but could their remaining fixtures of 2013 pull them back into trouble?

After the departure of Tony Pulis and the arrival of former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes, there weren't too many optimistic Potters fans ahead of this season.

After a solid start to the campaign, Hughes' side faltered but have managed to pick up four points from their last two outings to move them towards the middle of the table.

They have a chance to really pull away from the bottom six in the next month or so, so let's look at the fixtures that can help them do that, as well as get closer to a cup final.

Cardiff (H) 4th December – Hughes knows his side need to beat newly-promoted teams, especially at home. This won’t be easy and the visitors will believe they can go back to Wales with at least a point but a win here for the Potters will move them further away from the relegation zone.

Hull (A) 14th December – After taking on Chelsea at the Britannia, they then travel to the KC Stadium to face another side in their first season back in the top flight. The Tigers have started the season brightly but suffered a surprise defeat to Crystal Palace recently, so Hughes will think that they are there for the taking.

Manchester United (H) 18th December – The Capital One Cup takes centre stage a week before Christmas and a win over the Premier League champions in the quarter-final will do the side’s confidence the world of good. It would also move them a step closer to a day out at Wembley and a possibly trophy.

Aston Villa (H) 21st December – The serious matter of Premier League survival follows the next Saturday as they take on Paul Lambert’s Villa. The visitors won the last time they met at the Britannia and will believe they can come away with three points again.

Newcastle (A) 26th December – It’s not the easiest festive period for the Potters. Alan Pardew’s side are looking good value for a top-half finish and will be heavy favourites to win at St James’s Park. Hughes will hope for a positive result here though, given that their last game before 2013 ends is at White Hart Lane against Spurs.

image: © Ben Sutherland

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