Stoke v Sunderland: Chris Young’s verdict

Ahmed Elmohamady

Ahmed Elmohamady

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FACING Stoke City always evokes a public school-esque atmosphere of taking on the old boys.

Three of the six ex-Sunderland players at the Britannia Stadium were offloaded by Steve Bruce and the Sky coverage of the televised lunchtime clash will doubtless dwell on them getting one over on their former boss.

But there is just one Black Cat old boy who will worry the travelling band in the Potteries and those watching at home on Wearside.

The question is will it be a half-hearted, lazy Kenwyne Jones that Sunderland face or an aggressive, pacy and aerially dominant centre-forward that they’re up against?

The fear is that with a national television audience watching and a point to prove to Bruce that he was worth keeping at the Stadium of Light, it could be the latter.

Jones was an unused substitute as Stoke were well-beaten at a resurgent Liverpool in midweek but you suspect Tony Pulis will be sorely tempted to recall the Trinidad and Tobago hitman alongside on-loan Aston Villa striker John Carew tomorrow.

Carew is yet to make his debut at the Britannia and a partnership with Jones would severely test Sunderland in dealing with the aerial bombardment towards the two towering frontmen.

The Black Cats will certainly have to defend better than they did against Chelsea on Tuesday and perhaps Bruce will be tempted to throw John Mensah back into the equation.

Titus Bramble and Anton Ferdinand have worked well together as a pairing in Mensah’s absence but the sloppiness of the goals conceded against the champions may well force Bruce into a re-think.

Jones and Carew can’t be allowed an easy ride to winning the first ball in the air.

On the occasions when they inevitably do, Sunderland must be alert to mopping up the second ball because they will have been put on the hop by the quality of delivery from Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant on the flanks.

Sulley Muntari should help in that respect if the Ghanaian is handed his Black Cats bow.

Ahmed Elmohamady would seem the most vulnerable to Muntari’s claims for a first Sunderland start.

The Egyptian continues to get himself into great positions but his delivery in the last two home games against Newcastle and Chelsea has been woeful and he may benefit from another rest.

Muntari’s inclusion would allow Jordan Henderson to push out wide with the 20-year-old another who under-performed against Chelsea.

More importantly, Muntari would add some bite and aggression to Sunderland’s central midfield – something which has been missing in the absence of Lee Cattermole and David Meyler.

That will be crucial when up against Dean Whitehead and Salif Diao, who hardly shy away from a tackle.

Muntari’s fellow Ghanaian again has the most important role for the Black Cats though.

Asamoah Gyan’s hold-up play against Chelsea was a touch haphazard although admittedly he was too often left isolated on his own up front.

It will not be any easier for Gyan against a physical Stoke back four who will be persistently at his shoulder, breathing down his neck.

Gyan will not find the room that he did on Sunderland’s last away outing at Blackpool – it will be a far different test for the only striker at Bruce’s disposal.

The 25-year-old needs to be aggressive as Stoke won’t shirk from testing his mettle.

If he can prove tough enough to sustain the Potters and hold the ball up, then Sunderland will have a chance.

If not, the ball will continually be launched forward at them from the back and that will eventually prove telling.

While Sunderland’s followers will fret over Jones, it is his replacement that the result ultimately depends upon.

Verdict: Draw