Changes needed in attack for Stoke to end away scoring drought

Stoke head to the south coast on Saturday to take on Bournemouth in their penultimate away game of the season in the increasingly vain hope that they will manage to score their first away goal in nearly four months.

It's a game that Mark Hughes will be desperate to win in his bid to avoid presiding over the Potters' lowest-ever points total in a Premier League season (42 -- his side currently have 40). It is a scenario that perhaps suggests the fans indeed have genuine cause for concern despite calls from some quarters that their discontent is somehow unwarranted.

Supporter confidence in the current manager is at an all-time low and in the last week any dissenters have had to endure the added frustration of celebrity fans and pundits alike questioning their right to comment honestly on the team they watch week in, week out.

Worryingly, their relaxed view on things is one seemingly shared by Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross, who this week insisted that a couple more clean sheets would point to a "very good" campaign defensively.

Until January, the team were conceding four goals in a match once a month on average, so it's unfathomable that he can genuinely think that the defence has been anything other than a huge disappointment. Indeed, to be just five goals away from recording their worst-ever number of goals conceded in the Premier League suggests that it's an area of the team in need of serious surgery and not a pat on the back.

Hopefully the captain will be more than aware of what is on the line and looking to avoid that particular indignity on Saturday while also being conscious of the fact that the Cherries have plenty of threats in attack. One such example is Josh King, who is enjoying an exceptional run of form with 11 goals in the last 12 games for his side. Fans will remember it was he who almost singlehandedly destroyed Stoke's back line with a hat trick while at Blackburn as they strolled to a 4-1 FA Cup victory in February 2015.

Eddie Howe's men have had their own disappointments this term, but a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Middlesbrough in their last home game sees them come into this fixture in fine fettle. They also currently find themselves 10th in the league, two places and one point above the Potters which, with just three games of the season remaining, is an advantage they will be seeking to maintain.

Conversely, a top-10 finish could be just what the doctor ordered for under-fire Hughes to buy him some time from the owners amid his latest disappointing campaign. Unbelievably, his side could still finish as high as eighth, which, given the consistently low level of their performances, is a miracle at this stage of proceedings. To have any meaningful chance of that with what is left of the season, though, something needs to change at the top end of the pitch.

It seems unlikely that Saido Berahino will be taken out of the starting XI, so the focus should be on supporting him in the final third to increase his chances of finally opening his account for the Potters. The manager has tried several formations in an attempt to accommodate his latest signing, but what is really needed is a supply line through the middle to take advantage of his intelligent runs.

While that can sometimes come via one of the wingers cutting in from out wide, it is better served by a creative force permanently situated centrally, which is something Joe Allen has failed to deliver. The Welshman continues to struggle matching his early season form and, in truth, he is more of a scorer than provider this season, as bizarre as that sounds.

In that respect, Hughes would appear to already have the answer at his disposal, and that is to move Xherdan Shaqiri into the No. 10 role. The Swiss is comfortably the side's most creative force and with his penchant for clever through-balls, on paper it would seem to be a tactical match made in heaven. It would also be a move that opens the door for a return to the side for Ramadan Sobhi, who was questionably dropped despite impressing on the left flank.

In fact, there would be very little to lose and everything to gain from any such change which, given the side's current predicament, would seem to be a no-brainer for a manager scrambling for a winning formula.