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Fan Focus - Stoke City (A) Pre-Match Views

For the Saturday's lunchtime clash with Stoke City, we had the pleasure of speaking with Stoke City fan, Mark Holmes (Twitter @Homzy). Mark's been going to Stoke for over 20 years, and has been a season ticket holder for over 15. You may be aware of hs work on the TeamTalk website, where he is a sub-editor. Here's what he thinks ahead of the game...

Hi Mark, pleasure to speak with you. So, how has the season been shaping up so far for Stoke City?

Mark: This is our third season in the Premier League and we've spent most of it in the top half of the table, so you'd have to say it's been a good one for us so far. Yet, strangely, there hasn't been too many highlights - beating Liverpool was the stand-out moment, but everyone was doing that when Roy Hodgson was there!

We've picked up a few good away wins but had a few bad results at home too so the only word you could use to describe us this season is average. And I'm quite happy with that; I never thought I'd see the day Stoke would be an 'average' Premier League team.

Quite a few SAFC old boys at Stoke, how's Kenwyne Jones getting on at the Britannia following his big money move?

Mark: I'm sure you don't need me to explain Kenwyne for you. On his day he is fantastic but, just like you warned us, those days don't come often enough. That said, I don't think he gets the service he deserves and I'd always back him to finish a good cross into the box. The trouble with him is that he's not strong enough outside the box - and you certainly need to be at Stoke - but I'm hoping our new signing John Carew can do some of the dirty work for him.

As for the rest of the ex-Mackems, Dean Whitehead is steady, unspectacular, but one of our most consistent and arguably important players, whereas Danny Collins is shaky, spectacularly bad at times and without doubt the weak link in our side at left-back.

Rory Delap has been one of the manager's best ever buys but is starting to show signs of his age, while Thomas Sorensen has been another good buy but quite rightly the number two goalkeeper at the moment. You had Danny Higginbotham for a season too and will no doubt remember him for the solid, committed defender he is.

Are you disappointed Pulis couldn't get more out of flair players like Tuncay & Gudjohnsen?

Mark: Tuncay was the most exciting signing we've made since coming up so it is a real shame we didn't see more of him over the past 18 months. I remember him running the show for Boro at the Britannia but he had far more average games than great ones for us unfortunately. Some blame the manager for that but Tuncay never made the same impact as Ricardo Fuller up front and barely influenced the game at all in his appearances on the wing. He needs a free role and we couldn't give it to him unfortunately.

Eidur Gudjohnsen on the other hand never got my pulses racing. If we couldn't fit Tuncay into the team I don't know how we thought we'd fit him in, and so it proved. He was massively out of shape when we signed him and Pulis isn't the sort of manager that lets players build up their fitness in the first team. I'm not fussed he's gone though.

Speaking of Pulis, have any Stoke fans had the balls to tell him that people over 50 shouldn't wear caps?

Mark: Ha, I've met him myself no end of times but never dared tell him, no. To be fair he doesn't wear them away from the pitchside; it's a superstition he's had since his days at Gillingham. He's not got a great deal of hair under that cap either so it's probably best he keeps it on!

Tony Pulis said in the wake of the defeat at Liverpool, that Stoke can finish in the top 10 this season, would you regard that as a success, and do you think it's possible?

Mark: Like all football fans, some Stokies think we should be doing better than we are, but finishing in the top 10 would be a great achievement. In fact we'd be only the second team (the other was Blackburn) to improve our league position in our first three Premier League seasons.

I must confess I was dreaming of Europe until a few weeks ago but the last few results have put paid to that and I'd be more than happy with eighth, ninth or tenth now.

We nearly poached Ricardo Fuller from you, are you glad he stayed? From what I've read he's a bit of a legend in the Potteries.

Mark: I couldn't believe how badly the news went down on Wearside because he is, like you say, a legend in these parts. He's obviously one of those players you need to watch every week to appreciate but keep an eye on him this weekend and hopefully you'll see why we value him so much.

He's not scored enough in the last season and a half and I suspect that's why plenty of your fans didn't fancy him too much, but a fair share of our goals come from a bit of his fancy footwork and we wouldn't be where we are now if it wasn't for him. We do need to replace him eventually with someone that scores more but I'd love to think he could finish his career with us.

On to our game, what should we expect from Stoke this weekend? Has there been a shift from the physical, long ball game, that Stoke are often noted for?

Mark: Yes and no. We usually play with two wingers these days and have given a run recently to Marc Wilson, whose a brilliant passer of the ball when he's given the chance. The defence doesn't worry too much about passing, though, and we still play with two big lads up front so the long balls are still a part of our armoury. We're still competitive too but nowhere near as physical as we once were - we don't need to rely on that any more - and certainly not dirty, despite what Arsene Wenger would have you believe.

From our side of things, we are expecting the debut of Sulley Muntari which is a welcome boost. Who do you think from our side will be causing problems for Stoke?

Mark: Muntari looks like a cracking signing for you, as does Sessegnon. What we'd give for a couple of midfielders like that. You may disagree, but I think Stoke and Sunderland are fairly well matched. Gyan has settled in quicker than I expected but we're strongest at the back so the key to the game will be in midfield and yours is certainly better than ours so we'll have to be up for it.

I really like Onuoha at the back too but he's prone to the odd shocker so I'm hoping he'll have one of those days on Saturday against Matty Etherington.

Who would you say is the weakest link at Stoke, who we should be looking to exploit on Saturday?

Mark: Danny Collins is definitely our weak link but I doubt he'll play on Saturday - Higginbotham will probably start at left-back - so the key is, like I say, the midfield. I've got a feeling we'll go with Whitehead and Delap so there'll be plenty of energy but neither of them are great passers so there's every chance you could control the game.

And finally, give me your prediction for the game...

Mark: I definitely think you'll have more of the play and possession but I fancy us to win. We need to quite frankly and that should get us home. I'll go for a 2-1 win with Jones and Etherington scoring. Welbeck for you, if he plays.

Thanks Mark, and I'll speak to you again after the match!

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