Preview: Sunderland Head To Stoke For Six-Pointer

Michael Regan

It's probably far too early in the season for talk of six-pointers, but this could be Sunderland's biggest game of the season so far as they look to make up ground on Premier League safety.

Sunderland Team News

Gus Poyet has a full squad to choose from as everyone managed to come through the international fixtures unscathed, presenting the Uruguayan with something of a dilemma on his hands -- in a good way.

You'd expect Sunderland to lineup in a very similar fashion to how they did against Manchester City, with the only problems coming as Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena serving the final games of their suspensions.

Vito Mannone has done very little wrong and almost everything right since coming in and replacing Keiren Westwood, and that should continue behind a defence of Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes "The Wall" Brown and Ondrej Celustka.

The midfield three will once again see Ki Seung-Yung in the holding role, with Jack Colback and Seb Larsson in front of him. Larsson may come back from international duty somewhat shattered in a mental and physical way after Sweden's defeat to Portugal, and if this is adjudged to be the case expect Craig Gardner to replace him like-for-like.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson will be on the wings, with Steven Fletcher leading the line. There's a case for Jozy Altidore's physicality to come into play against the equally big and strong Stoke City defence, however I do think Fletcher will get the nod.

Stoke City Team News

Mark Hughes has injury concerns over Stephen Ireland and Andy Wilkinson ahead of tomorrow's game, but other than that it's a clean bill of health for the Welshman for this clash.

Asmir Begovic will continue in goal, and hopefully won't be focussed on scoring goals as he did the other week.

The defence will likely remain the same as it was last time out too with Geoff Cameron, Erik Pieters, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.

There could well be changes in midfield, with the more attacking Charlie Adam likely to come in for Wilson Palacios, while the rest of the midfield should be made of Steven N'Zonzi, Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters.

Peter Crouch will forage a lone role in attack, but will likely be supported by Oussma Assiadi if Stephen Ireland isn't deemed fit enough.

Predicted Line-ups

Sunderland vs Stoke City - Football tactics and formations

Sunderland: Mannone; Celustka, Brown, O'Shea, Bardsley; Larsson, Ki, Colback; Johnson, Giaccherini; Fletcher.

Stoke City: Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters; N'Zonzi, Adam; Ireland, Walters, Arnautovic; Crouch

Key Match-up: Ondrej Celustka Vs Marko Arnautovic

Our defence has looked very strong of late, despite reshuffling which has forced Phil Bardsley into left-back. Ondrej Celustka, who started the season well has looked ok since coming back into side, but in all honesty no more than that in my opinion.

I've been impressed with him, but he'll need to up his game a little this weekend against a tricky Marko Arnautovic, who's likely to be cutting inside often. Knowing when to pass him on to John O'Shea will prove pivotal, as will not giving the ball away as often as he had, or getting too drawn inside.

Recent Form: LDLDDD

Lost: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City (Bent 83)

Draw: Stoke City 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

Lost: Manchester United 3-2 Stoke City (Crouch 4, Arnautovic 45, Van Persie 43, Rooney 78, Hernandez 80)

Draw: Birmingham City 4-4 Stoke City (Assiadi 10, Adeyemi 28, Crouch 55, Arnautovic 71, Lovenkrands 85 & 90, Jones 94, Lee 118)

Draw: Stoke City 1-1 Southampton (Begovic 1, Rodriguez 45)

Draw: Swansea City 3-3 Stoke City (Walters 8, Ireland 25, Bony 56, Dyer 74, Bony 86, Adam 90)

Last Time Around: Stoke City 0-0 Sunderland, 27/10/12

The definition of a nothing-nothing result as neither team got the three points they both badly needed, and in all honesty it was a very forgettable game. The only thing of note was a handball claim against Robert Huth, which with hindsight nobody was particularly bothered about.

The Ref: Kevin Friend

This will be the first time Mr Friend has refereed either time this season. He's also been quite reluctant to make the big decisions this season, handing out no red cards and only two penalties across six Premier League games.

In what is semi-interesting though, during his eleven year career as a referee, Sunderland are the side he has officiated the most, taking charge on fifteen occasions. Our record over that span is four wins, eight defeats and three draws.

He's also sent off four Sunderland players, and awarded the opposition three penalties.

What The Manager (And A Goalie) Said

Gus Poyet

It's a very important game for us, more important than people think.

People think that because we won the other day, we'll be OK.

But, no, we can't take it easy.

We need to make sure that everyone knows how important the game is.

I want to see that we believe that what we've been doing and what we've been getting better at, we can do away from home as well.

Asmir Begovic (Because as of 2pm when I had to leave Mark Hughes had said f--k all)

It will come good. We are doing all the right things and just need to stay together to show it for 90 minutes after showing good things in glimpses.

We've got a good bunch of players and it's just a case of being more consistent so that we can get some good results in the near future.

Sunderland do have great quality, and they also have key players coming back and a new manager giving them the confidence they've shown in two home wins.

But if we can get the fans on our side and make the Britannia the intimidating place it can be, then I know we can do good things.

Roker Report Predicts

This has been billed, and rightly so, as a six-pointer, with both teams badly in need of all three points. I'm not sure either side has enough to get them and a draw wouldn't be the end of the world. If either tam can sneak it, it will be Sunderland.

The Britannia Stadium hasn't been a happy hunting ground, so I think a draw is the most likely result. 1-1.

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