Martin Smith: Win, lose or draw, big Brit matches are the ones to savour
IN the five seasons since we made it into the Premier League – that's right Vale fans, you are already four years out on your predictions – the best days at The Brit have been those when we've entertained the bigger clubs.
We haven't always done as well as we'd hoped to, but we always seem to produce something special out on the pitch when the bear-pit atmosphere is turned up to full volume.
Which is exactly why we're all eagerly anticipating the visit of Chelsea to the Potteries this weekend.
We have yet to record a victory over the Blues since promotion, but we live in hope – and on the evidence of our most recent games against them, we are edging closer.
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It won't be easy, of course. Chelsea are armed with a fearsome array of awesome talent – and Fernando Torres.
If they catch you on one of their good days then you're going to be in for a very tough 90 minutes.
But these are the sort of challenges Tony Pulis seems to relish, and he'll have been plotting how to stifle Chelsea's threat and then engineer an unexpected Stoke victory.
We'll probably be at full strength for the match, and the team will be working tirelessly on their shape and responsibilities down at Clayton Woods all week.
During the many years we spent exiled from the top flight, playing the likes of Northampton, Stockport, Bury, Cambridge and Chesterfield, we dreamed of hosting regular games against the likes of Chelsea. It's for that reason that games like Saturday's are to be relished.
We can think what we like about some of the players they choose to hail as heroes, Chelsea's part in helping to inflate an already red-hot transfer market by spending obscene amounts on mediocre players, or their ludicrous managerial appointment policy, but the reality is these are the games you want to be watching your team play.
And if The Potters can avoid defeat this weekend – and that doesn't mean sit back and play for a 0-0 draw – to preserve the country's only unbeaten home record, then we'll all be very happy. It'll be a tall order, but I have no doubt TP's team are up to the job.
Beyond manning the defences at "Fortress Britannia" and savouring how we might score our first goal of 2013, the big issue for Stokies now is what action, if any, we'll take before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Only a few weeks ago it was intimated that the only deal we'd be looking to do would be to bring in a left-back, to help shore-up our defensive options following the long-term injury to Marc Wilson.
As yet there don't seem to be any solid leads, but it has been reported we are looking to off-load Wilson Palacios on the cheap to make way for a new signing.
It all sounds very plausible, but if it is true what a crying shame. That's not only because of the heavy financial hit we'll probably take in shifting the midfielder, but also because he was a signing who had looked to be heaven sent for Stoke.
Fortunately, the summer arrival Steven Nzonzi has proved to be even more pivotal to The Potters than we'd ever dared to hope Palacios could be, so we just have to move on.
Any moves we do make to bring players in are unlikely to be particularly significant – perhaps an extra defender and hopefully a dedicated full-back, and not a makeshift one. That would be just about right.
Finally, there was a time when Stoke fans could make plans for the weekend of the FA Cup fourth round secure in the knowledge we wouldn't be participating.
But these days we have to be a bit more cautious as our team have reached the quarter-final stage – and beyond – for the last three successive seasons.
Doing likewise this year is going to take a monumental effort. First of all we have to overcome a Crystal Palace side who will be pretty confident about their chances of claiming a Premier League scalp when they come to The Brit for their third-round replay next week.
And if we do manage to dispose of Ian Holloway's side, then we have a big brick wall in front of us in the shape of Manchester City.
On the plus side, it would offer us a chance to take quick revenge for our New Year's Day beating on their ground. On the negative side, it's one of the hardest fixtures we could have been handed at this stage of the competition.
Still, you take the draw as it comes, and you can be sure that a game against the less classy half of Manchester would be a big draw for fans eager to see whether Stoke could overcome the loss of the 2011 FA Cup final – and whether Roberto Mancini goes fist-to-fist with any more of his players during the 90 minutes.
The Eastlands mob really do prove that you can spend all the money in the world in pursuit of trinkets and a feeble attempt to keep up with your neighbours, but you simply can't buy class. They also prove that the spirit of slapstick comedy didn't die with the Keystone Cops.
Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves by dreaming of another cup match against Man City just yet. Instead, here's to a rousing display against Chelsea and to getting the job done against Palace.