SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: John relishes Midlands trip

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on SAFC 10 years ago.

JOHN: BRING IT ON!

Stern ready for Baggies

STERN JOHN accepts he will be a marked man when he returns to the Midlands this weekend.

As a former Coventry City and Birmingham City striker, he is bound to be a target for West Bromwich Albion fans at the Hawthorns.

But he says he won’t mind that – just so long as Sunderland continue to maintain the standards of play they’ve set in recent weeks.

He grinned: “I know it’s likely to be a bit lively for me down there, especially with me having played for two of their rival clubs.

I expect a bit of stick. But that’s football and to be honest it won’t really concern me at all.

“All I’m interested in is that we keep on playing well as we have done since I joined the club because it has ben great to be part of a team which has been playing so well.

“It is a fantastic time for myself and the club and we’re in a good position now. But I’m looking forward to the Albion game because that will another big test for us.”

John was at City from 2002-04, scoring 25 goals in 46 league and cup appearances.

At Coventry, he notched 29 goals in 68 starts between 2004-07. And the 30-year-old has been almost an ever present in the starting line-up at Sunderland since joining the club in the January transfer window.

Now he is hoping to cement his place in the side with goals to add to the two he notched against Southend United last month.

He said: “I’m glad that I’m off the mark and up and running because it’s important for any striker to get goals when he joins a new club.

“It doesn’t matter how well you play in games, strikers are always judged on their goals and now I have a couple under my belt I can relax a but and not try too hard and end up snatching at chances.”

Although the Trinidad and Tobago striker has two goals to his credit, he knows that but for a bit of bad luck he could have had three or four more.

“He said: “I think I’ve been a bit unlucky in the sense that I had a couple of chances against Derby that were more likely to go in than not and before that, I hit the woodwork in our last home game.

“But I’m not too bothered about that.

“On another day they would have gone in and if you’re a striker, as long as you’re getting chances you feel fine because you know sooner or later you’ll out them away.

“The time to worry is when no chances are being created for you but thankfully that hasn’t been a problem at all since I first joined Sunderland.

“The team seems to be playing really well from the back, all the way through to the front and that’s what we have to focus on maintaining this weekend.

KEANE IMPRESSED BY CATS’ DESIRE

IT’S promotion showdown weekend in the Championship, with six of the top seven sides facing each other.

But Sunderland boss Roy Keane is quietly confidence that his in-form side can handle the pressure.

On Sunday, leaders Birmingham City will take on sixth-placed Cardiff City and on Monday, seventh-placed Preston North End face fifth-placed Southampton.

Meanwhile, the fourth-placed Black Cats face a daunting trip to the Hawthorns tomorrow where second-placed West Bromich Albion have lost only once at home all season.

But the Sunderland boss, who was yesterday named Manager of the Month for February, has confidence in his own side.

He said: “I’ve been very pleased with the way my players have performed recently. They’ve shown great application and character and an appetite to win games.

“I think you saw that last weekend where they were still going for it in the 93rd minute against Derby County and got their rewards.

“When Liam Miller scored the winner in injury time, there were four of our players in the box.

“And I think that shows how committed the players are to getting results.”

Keane travelled to the Midlands on Tuesday night to watch Albion exit the FA Cup after a penalty shoot-out with Middlesbrough. But he was impressed by what he saw of the Championship side.

He said: “Albion played well and on another night they could easily have beaten Boro. They’ve got some very dangerous players, particularly up front.

“Sunderland fans know all about the danger of Kevin Phillips, a player who is a natural goalscorer. And he was rested on Tuesday night, which suggests they want him at his sharpest for the weekend.

“Then of course there’s Diomansy Kamara, whose goalscoring record speaks for itself.

“But we’ve been strong in defence in recent weeks and I’m expecting us to be strong again this weekend. We know we’ll need to be at our best against Albion but, as I say, I’ve got confidence in my players.”

Dean Whitehead is set to return to the starting line-up this weekend after serving his one-match suspension. But there is doubt over the fitness of £2million striker Anthony Stokes.

Other than that, the Sunderland squad has a clean bill of health.