With the Chelsea revenge mission out of the way, we can now focus on Stoke in tomorrow’s early match up at the Britannia Stadium. I will not over-analyse what happened at the SSOL on Tuesday; it was a terrific game for neutral observers, and the Black Cats played a full part in an excellent spectacle against the expensively-assembled visiting team, who have rediscovered the confidence which deserted them after the 0-3 setback at the Bridge. Plus points: Goal machine Phil Bardsley, Sessegnon's debut and Kieran Richardson chipping in with a goal again. The negatives: an uncharacteristic hesitancy in defence, with 4 goals conceded at home for the first time since Man. Utd. on Boxing Day 2007, and a crowd of “just” 37,855. The take home message is that we need Mensah and Turner available for selection and Cattermole doing what he does best, protecting the back line, as soon as humanly possible – the latter two starred at Stamford Bridge in October. News of the young skipper’s continued absence for another month is a blow.
Cattermole is the sort of player we needed for tomorrow. Stoke play to their strengths, keep it simple and do not give any team an easy game. Steve Bruce says we cannot afford to get caught up in a physical battle in the Potteries, and that is true. With John Carew now in the line up, it will not get any easier.
I have respect for what Tony Pulis has achieved at Stoke on a budget, including providing gainful employment to a host of ex-Black Cats; the list is long: Sørensen, Delap, Colllins, Whitehead, Jones, Higginbotham. Pulis appears honest and straightforward, and has established his team in the top league. He even occasionally admits after a game that the opposition was the better team, an utterance that has never to my knowledge passed the lips of Alex Ferguson.
Stoke are hard to beat, make life difficult for the opposition, who never get to settle on the ball. They always seem to have a game plan, which is high-energy, even fiery and not without skill. Tomorrow’s result will obviously depend on who is sharpest in front of goal, and to quote Peter Reid, goals change matches! If the Sunderland defence is at its miserly best again, and Gyan can come near to matching his 2-goal haul in October’s reverse fixture at the SSOL, we will be in good shape to take at least a point from the game.
©Lars J.S, Knutsen
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