Rowell Report: Stoke clash is like a semi-final for Sunderland

Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
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THE game against Stoke City tomorrow night might not have the profile or media hype that our cup semi-final with Manchester United had.

But in its own way it is every bit as huge and important to the club.

After the glory of getting to Wembley, it is back to the grind of Premier League action and the fight for points that are crucial for Sunderland in their battle at the bottom of the table.

What makes this game even bigger is the fact that after the Stoke game, our next three out of four Premier League fixtures are away from home, which makes getting three points from the Potters absolutely vital.

Sunderland lost at the Britannia earlier in the season in a controversial game which saw Wes Brown sent off in the first half for winning the ball cleanly – an injustice that still rankles.

Stoke have lost eight times away from home this season, only Palace have a worse record on the road, and that makes this game very winnable.

Unfortunately, as we all know, these are the very games that Sunderland have failed to capitalise on and that has got to change.

Stoke don’t ask for favours or give them.

They will be physical and uncompromising, as they always are and Sunderland will have to match that.

Three points against Stoke would narrow the gap to just two points between the two clubs and would drag them deeper into relegation trouble.

Sunderland don’t seem to have any problems when they are the underdogs in cup competitions.

Now they need to work out how to get the job done when they are the favourites in Premier League games.

Stoke have some decent names in their side and they will be a threat.

But to me, Sunderland’s biggest challenge is a mental one because these are the games are the ones have consistently failed to win – going all the way back to Fulham at home on the opening day of the season.

So Sunderland have to get their mental mindset right.

They are going out into a game where they are expected to win by the fans and instead of feeling that pressure, they need to enjoy the expectation, relish it and make sure they do a job tomorrow.