Hughes, Stoke still searching for answers at striker

Saturday's visit of Burnley marks the last of a nine-game clutch of favourable fixtures for the Potters ahead of a more challenging schedule in December.

It's a period that with one game to go has taken in matches against West Brom, Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford, and resulted in a healthy average of two points a game with a creditable draw against Manchester United thrown in for good measure.

Results elsewhere at the weekend saw the side just slip out of the top 10 of the league, but another three points against Sean Dyche's men should firmly establish the Potters back in the top half of the table.

They will go into this game in good heart, having overcome the adversity of injury and suspension to claim an important win away at Watford in their last game, and they will also have the added bonus of being able to welcome back two of their better players.

Captain Ryan Shawcross is expected to overcome the calf injury that kept him out of that win, but perhaps more significant is the return of surprise sensation Joe Allen, who is set to reassume his position of unlikely No.10. Bringing two such pillars of the side back into the starting XI is a no-brainer, but the decision of whom to start with up front is not such a straightforward one.

Loanee Wilfried Bony is an option to come back into the side, but there's a growing swell of support for Mame Diouf to get a chance there having found his way back into contention with another selfless performance as a defensive winger in his last game.

He has been in the press this week stating his preference for a striking role, and given the lack of success others have had in that area of the pitch, it's only fair that he too get a similar opportunity to stake his claim. While his touch may at times let him down, the Senegalese is a natural goal scorer, and historically he has thrived on the kind of chances others are struggling to convert this term.

A striker is arguably the most crucial of roles in a side, and while Hughes has a multitude of options available to him, he is still seemingly none the wiser as to who is best suited in his system.

The fact that he is so quick to turn to his "Plan B" of 35-year-old Peter Crouch -- who last scored in the league over 18 months ago -- rather than giving others an opportunity to impress is becoming increasingly frustrating. With that constant comfort blanket available, there is little incentive or urgency to solve a striking conundrum that has long since needed attention: Plan A.

Jon Walters is another go-to option and was the latest to be given the opportunity of leading the line, but despite putting in plenty of miles against Watford, his end product was again found wanting, and he became the latest to struggle to produce in that role.

He is still without a league goal this campaign and currently "boasts" a shooting accuracy of just 14 percent, which comes as a result of managing just one shot on target all season. Central defender Shawcross has had four.

Diouf has shown he is clearly capable of scoring in this league, and during his maiden campaign he found the back of the net 11 times for the Potters despite starting a third of his games that season out of position and half a dozen more from the bench. It's an impressive feat and tellingly one that continues to elude both Crouch and Walters at Stoke despite having 11 years of trying between them.

Of course, nothing is certain, and he could well find himself suffering the same misfortune as those before him. While it is odds on that Hughes will be back in for Saido Berahino in January's transfer window, having seen such little game time this season, it would be well worth his effort to make the most of Diouf's talents before writing him off completely.

There is certainly a chance for someone to impress on Saturday; for in Burnley they will come up against a defence who have conceded the highest number of shots on target in the league this season. Step forward, Mr. Diouf.