Talking tactics: 3 ways Sunderland can beat Stoke

Didier Ndong

Didier Ndong

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A fifth of the way into the Premier League season, hands up who expected to see Sunderland in the bottom three?

A fair few this reporter guesses, but Stoke City?

For all the hand-wringing and head shaking on both Wearside and in the Potteries, could either club really expect to be hovering around the European places?

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After three seasons in the top 10, the Potters find themselves in unchartered territory – only a battling and unexpected draw at Manchester United, earned by a man-of-the-match display by on-loan keeper Lee Grant, lifted them off the foot of the table going into the international break.

Of course, the side which replaced them in 20th place was Sunderland, setting up this basement battle.

There are mitigating factors at both clubs who, ironically, have had almost identical sets of fixtures.

The rivals share six common opponents – Middlesbrough, Man City, Everton, Spurs, Crystal Palace and West Brom.

With no disrespect to Aitor Karanka and those at the Riverside, only really Boro and Palace you would say were games you would expect rather than hope for points.

For all the hand-wringing and head shaking on both Wearside and in the Potteries, could either club really expect to be hovering around the European places?

But this is a real chance for points and here are three key areas for Sunderland.

Exploit Stoke’s uncertainty:

The natives are restless at the Britannia Stadium.

Stoke have won just one of their last eight Premier League matches on home turf, drawing three and losing four.

In fact, Mark Hughes’s side have won only one of their past 14 Premier League games stretching into the back end of last season (five draws and eight defeats) a far worse record than the Black Cats.

While the Potters have, like Sunderland, seen some improvement over the last two matches – 1-1 draws against West Brom and Man United – they are still struggling for confidence or fluency.

Stoke have only mustered 19 shots on target this season and, more pertinently, have converted just five into goals and two of those were dead-ball efforts.

Sunderland must set out to frustrate, press the Potters into mistakes and get the home crowd on their side’s backs.

Feed Jermain Defoe:

How many off-days does the Sunderland striker have? You could probably count them on one hand.

The striker failed to tuck away a couple of chances that came his way against West Brom and he’ll be keen to get on a roll again tomorrow.

Sunderland put together a few incisive moves against the Baggies, a side famed for their organisation and resilience, including a couple from deep.

So their ability to do that on the break at the Britannia against a side who have leaked goals could be key to getting a result.

Stoke have now gone 16 Premier matches without a clean sheet and, at the other end, have only netted 10 goals in their last 13 fixtures, scoring more than once on just one occasion.

Defoe has turned 34 since his last outing and what better way to celebrate than with a goal and a win?

His conversion rate, West Brom aside, has been outstanding, he could prove the main man tomorrow,

Step forward Didier Ndong:

There was already a bit of pressure on the 22-year-old’s shoulders given his transfer fee was £13.6million.

Of course, that was nothing of his doing but with big prices come big expectations and, thus far, he has grown by the game.

And tomorrow there is a little more responsibility given Sunderland look like being minus both senior midfield partners, Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff, the latter facing a couple of months on the sidelines.

Ndong brings vibrancy to the middle and in the draw with West Brom two of the best three moves from the home side involved the Gabon international.

Sunderland need that again tomorrow and they require Didier to lead the midfield unit.

It may be a lot to ask given he is a recent arrival to both the club and English football, but he has the ability, energy and tenacity.