Paul Lambert will not be reconsidering the Stoke exiles of Saido Berahino and Jese Rodriguez despite a lack of goals being at the root of their relegation struggles.
Lambert has been strict on discipline since succeeding Mark Hughes in January, with forwards Berahino and Jese joining Ibrahim Afellay in being frozen out.
Berahino, who has still yet to score a senior goal for Stoke, has been banished to the under-23s after arriving late once too often while Jese is currently AWOL back home in Spain.
Stoke head into Saturday’s clash with Liverpool at Anfield on an 11-game winless run during which they have scored only seven goals.
With Berahino and Jese absent and Eric Choupo-Moting still out with a groin problem, Peter Crouch and Mame Biram Diouf, who have scored just four goals between them since November, are Lambert’s only front-line striking options.
But the Stoke boss is determined to stick to his guns, saying: “I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about it. It’s my decision, I think it’s right for the football club.”
Chairman Peter Coates confirmed this week that Lambert will stay in his post whether or not Stoke go down having been impressed by the improvement in performances if not results since the Scot took over.
“Some players will probably be happy and some not happy, but that’s football,” said Lambert. “I’m glad to have the chance to rebuild it, whatever league we are in. It’s nice to hear. I get on well with everybody here, but I also know it’s a big job.”
Last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley left Stoke four points adrift of safety with only three games left and with a significantly inferior goal difference to all those around them.
Having initially said they would need nine points to stay up, Lambert now feels it is not quite win or bust, but they will head to Anfield targeting nothing but victory, and knowing results could conspire to send them down this weekend.
Lambert said: “We definitely have to win two out of three, and even then you have to wait and see what happens.
“We’re still in the fight, it’s not as if we’re sitting here and we’re out of the game. We know it’s difficult and we have to throw everything at it that we possibly can, but if we take this right to the last day, then we’ll take it.
“There’s still teams that have got really hard run-ins. We know we’re going to a really tough place on Saturday, but on any given day you can win. And as long as we have that belief, you’ll always have a chance.”
The timing could potentially be in Stoke’s favour, with the game coming in between the two legs of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Roma, which they lead 5-2.
Jurgen Klopp rested key players like Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the Merseyside derby in the middle of their quarter-final clash against Manchester City and Liverpool were below par in a goalless draw.
Lambert, who can take confidence from his record of three wins and two draws from five trips to Anfield as a manager, said: “They can’t rest them all. Whether they rest one or two, I don’t know.
“I know for my own team we have to go there and try to win the game. We have to be aggressive, we have to play a really high-tempo game to stay in the game against them. But they’re still a really top side whoever they play. They might have one eye on Rome, I think Jurgen will know that tie isn’t finished.”