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Fan Focus: The Potters Perspective From TEAMtalk's Mark Holmes

With Stoke in town it's time to catch up with an old Roker Report friend, Mark Holmes. We believe Sunderland's recent history can be accurately traced by our chats with Homzy alone, so it's great to have him back.

Nigel Roddis

Lessons learned, yadda yadda yadda, transitional period, blah blah blah, new Sunderland etc etc... we've been getting you on Roker Report for years and the more things change the more they seem to stay the same. Do you see any difference between this 'new' Sunderland and the zillion or so previous 'new' Sunderlands?

MH: The Gus Poyet Sunderland is certainly different to the Martin O'Neill or Paolo Di Canio Sunderland, but, to this outsider at least, there doesn't seem to have been any drastic changes made over the summer. The organisation certainly seems to have improved, however.

On the other hand, Stoke City seem to have really changed over the last year or so. Set piece bullying appears to be out, lightning quick counter attacks appear to be in. Is there actually anything left of Pulis' Stoke at all?

MH: If you define 'set-piece bullying' as scoring lots and conceding few from those situations, then, yes, Stoke have definitely lost that as a strength. But there's still a good physical presence remaining in the team, they still dominate most teams in the air, and they certainly won't shy away from a battle. The difference is that Hughes has added a great deal of pace to the side, enabling them to cause problems when they sit deep. There is also a Plan B these days - Stoke now regularly look to keep the ball for long periods in games, although turning that sort of dominance into chances has proven a problem so far this season.

How is Phil Bardsley getting on?

MH: He looked nervous in his first couple of games but he's settled brilliantly since then and looks a vast improvement, defensively at least, on Geoff Cameron at right-back. He hasn't exactly been swashbuckling going forward yet, but his crossing ability has also improved the team.

Lee Cattermole looked all but certain to be a Stoke player in January, but has enjoyed a quite remarkable turnaround since to become arguably Sunderland's most important player. How do you manage to motivate yourself to get up in the morning knowing you came so close to signing such an unquestionable footballing god?

MH: Ha! Just as Sunderland fans were split over whether he should be sold in January, Stoke fans were split over whether he would be a good buy. I thought he would have been but, either coincidentally or as a direct result of knowing his place in the team wasn't certain, Glenn Whelan stepped up his standards. He was already in form but his performances in the second half of the season were outstanding. So the non-move seems to have worked out well for all parties.

Is there anything in this Sunderland side that even remotely worries you?

MH: I always worry when we come to the Stadium of Light as our record there is so poor. I'm also always wary of the quality Adam Johnson can produce on his day, and it was noticeable how much joy you had down your right-hand side against Marc Muniesa in the recent cup game. Muniesa is set to play again so that's a slight concern.

What should Sunderland be wary of this weekend?

MH: Victor Moses is the obvious one. He's one of those players that has you off your seat even when he gets the ball on the edge of the box. His pace is unbelievable! Unlike in previous years, though, there's no one threat that Sunderland can look to double mark. Marko Arnautovic is likely to play on the opposite wing and can run a full-back into the ground if he's on his game. Up front, Peter Crouch is playing as well as he ever has for the club.

I have to remind you that last time you were here, you predicted relegation for Sunderland, only to be proven wrong with the rest of us. From the outside, what did you make of the great escape and what kind of a season do you see us enduring this time?

MH: I did indeed, and I'm still amazed you got out of trouble! That was remarkable and, even as a neutral, great to watch. I have literally no idea what inspired the upturn in form, though, and I've not seen too much so far this season to suggest those performances could become the norm. In fact, with goals so hard to come by, it could be just as much of a struggle to stay out of trouble this season. There are definitely three worse teams in the league than Sunderland, but you need a win quickly to stop the rot.

Let's have a prediction!

MH: Obviously, I hope that win doesn't come on Saturday! I can't see Stoke not scoring and can't see Sunderland scoring twice so for that reason a 1-1 scoreline seems nailed on.

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