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The Opposition View - Stoke City (H)

Dave Frith from Stoke City fanzine 'Oatcake' spoke to @GHSAFC91 ahead of this weekend's game at the Stadium of Light, and he doesn't sound particularly confident...

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

I just took a quick look at the Oatcake twitter feed and it would seem the Stoke fans aren’t fully optimistic of three points on Saturday – are we your bogie team or something?!

Indeed you are. Sunderland have beaten Stoke 62 times in the league and that’s the most of any club we’ve faced. We have a pretty awful record at your place; although we knocked you out of the League Cup last season we’ve never won a league game at the Stadium of Light and have only won once in your city since 1982. 

Did you watch our win against Palace on Monday and, if you did, what kind of Sunderland team are you expecting you’ll face on Saturday? We don’t quite know ourselves..

You did a good job on Palace to be fair by defending deep and hitting them on the break. Whether or not Sam Allardyce will adopt those tactics on Saturday in a home game remains to be seen, but we’ve struggled against teams sitting back over the past couple of seasons.

Everyone stood up and took notice of Stoke in the summer with the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri. How’s he been since arriving with much fanfare?

He’s slowly but surely finding his feet, but he seems to have been struggling with a niggling hamstring strain for much of his time so far. He played very well last week at Southampton – his best game for us so far – and really should’ve scored a couple of goals. Once that first one hits the back of the net we fancy him to get himself on a roll though.

What has it been like watching Stoke transition from the Tony Pulis era into the Mark Hughes era?

It’s been great. Stoke City and Mark Hughes are a match made in heaven really. He went through a bad spell at QPR and wasn’t seen in a good light by many after leaving Fulham but our chairman Peter Coates stated that he was his number one choice to replace Tony Pulis and his decision has been well and truly vindicated. Hughes inherited a good squad of players, who were more talented than people gave them credit for and he’s added the flair in Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri among others to match the steel of players like Shawcross, Whelan and Walters. The good team spirit we’ve had at the club over the past decade hasn’t been allowed to erode either and all of the players we’ve signed have fitted seamlessly into the dressing room. Players like Muniesa, Pieters and Odemwingie are really good lads as well and Stoke City is rightly seen as a great football club to be involved in. Like most clubs of our size we have our ups and downs, but we go into every game now knowing that the team are going to be positive and stand a chance of getting a result – perhaps not at the Stadium of Light though!!!

Our old right back Phil Bardsley has seen himself play second fiddle to Glen Johnson for much of this season and I’ve read this week he’s not interested in leaving the club on loan, despite it probably being the best thing for him football-wise. Does he need to leave? Do you think he’s been unlucky to lose his place in the side, or is Glen Johnson just much better than him?

Glen Johnson has settled in really well and there’s no way Bardsley will get into the team at the moment. He’s certainly a decent back up player to have, but if Johnson’s current form continues and he stays fit, then Bards is not going to get much of a look in.

What sticks out for you when you think about games against Sunderland in the past? I’m still not over that Wes Brown red card…

There have certainly been plenty of controversial moments between the two teams over the past few years. We remember Martin Atkinson not seeing Lee Cattermole’s blatant handball on the line up there in 2009/10, but then we got away with one when Matty Etherington handled in similar fashion the year before. You obviously think Brown was hard done by at our place, but we also remember a harsh red card for Robert Huth in the snow in 2011/12 (also courtesy of Martin Atkinson). We’re a bunch of old farts though, so we’ll go back much further in time. In 1978/79 both teams were going for promotion to the First Division and we were due to meet at the Victoria Ground for a fixture in the new year. Despite a heavy snowfall, a lot of Sunderland fans managed to make it to Stoke, but the Sunderland team couldn’t manage it. There were rumours of a bit of an injury crisis amongst your ranks and we weren’t too happy about the game having to be postponed. To add insult to injury, you won the re-match 1-0! We had the last laugh though on the final day of the season when an 88th minute winning goal at Notts County saw us clinch promotion at your expense. There were no mobile phones in those days, so your fans at Wrexham were on the pitch celebrating promotion after your 2-1 win when the news of our goal filtered through. We shouldn’t laugh really!

Just how good is Jack Butland? In your opinion should he be England number one, or is he not quite ready yet?

Jack’s time will come. He’s a great young keeper and has got plenty of time on his side, though he’ll probably have to join one of the top clubs before he has a genuine chance of becoming England’s number one goalkeeper. Roy Hodgson simply isn’t going to pick Stoke City’s goalkeeper over Manchester City’s. 

Be honest, do you see Sunderland staying up again this season? We scrape by year after year so it really wouldn’t surprise anyone if we did.

Sunderland are battled hardened. It’s stood you in good stead before and may well do again. It looks like it’s going to be tough for Aston Villa, who’ve made a strange managerial choice and Bournemouth’s injuries will probably be too much for them. We were at the bottom of the league not so long ago and didn’t win any of our first six matches, so a bad run can drag any team into a relegation scrap. We think both Norwich and Watford (and possibly even Swansea) will be down there at the bottom though and of course there’s Newcastle United! It will certainly be another intriguing battle at the foot of the league.

Who do you see causing Sunderland real problems on Saturday, and why?

Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri (dubbed by someone on our forum this week as Stoke City’s “Holy Trinity”!) are undoubtedly the players to watch. Arnie is in great form this season and Bojan is slowly but surely returning to form after his terrible knee injury. His goal at Southampton last week was just incredible.

Similarly, who in Sunderland’s side do you think will worry Stoke? The likes of Younes Kaboul, Yann M’Vila and Jermain Defoe are playing well for us right now.

Difficult to say, considering we make Sunderland look like Atletico Madrid every time we play up there - even Jozy Altidore scored against us in the League Cup last season! Defoe of course is a lethal finisher and the youngster Duncan Watmore looks quite a prospect.

Finally, what do you think the score will be?

Well, we’ve kept five clean sheets on the bounce away from home and won three of our last four Premier League games on our travels, so something may have to give. We’ll go for 1-1, Adam for us and Fletcher for Sunderland.

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