STEVE Bruce says Sunderland cannot afford to get drawn into a scrap with physical Stoke City tomorrow.
And he insists his side’s best chance of success lies in them playing the sort of football they produced in the first half of Tuesday’s game against Chelsea.
Stoke are a formidable side in terms of height and power and are particularly dangerous at set-pieces – where exactly half their goals have come from this season.
But Bruce still fancies his side’s chances of getting something from tomorrow’s match if his team are on their best game.
“What we’d really like is to make it three away wins in a row, of course we would,” he shrugged.
“But we know how difficult a place it is going to be to go to and get something.
“The Britannia Stadium has earned a reputation over the last few years as a tough place for anyone to go to and I don’t think any side in the Premier League relishes a visit there.
“They are a tough, tall, strong, uncompromising side and I think there’s hardly a player in the team who is below six foot tall and, in John Carew, they’ve got a lad who is six foot five!
“So we know what to expect.
“They’ve made a science of getting the best from set-pieces. They usually have six lads in the box for any play and that’s where they look to get goals.
“That’s why I know the first thing we have to do is defend well. It will be an aerial bombardment and a physical contest, but we have to get our head on the ball and put our foot in and not let them have their own way.”
Even though Bruce has called on his players to stand up and be counted, to not allow themselves to be intimidated by Stoke, he says it is vital Sunderland don’t get sucked into a physical contest.
He said: “They’ve got their strengths, we’ve got our ours and I always feel it’s important to play to your strengths rather than to the oppositions.
“We have to compete, but we also have to make sure we don’t get dragged into playing them at their own game.
“It’s not going to be easy for us – we can’t make our players taller for set-pieces. But we just have to accept that’s the way it is and try to counter it the best way we can.
“What I do want us to do though is to play our football. Some of the stuff we played against Chelsea in the first half on Tuesday night was fantastic – lesser opposition would have struggled to cope with it.
“And that’s what I’m looking for from us tomorrow. Let’s allow our football to do the talking. We’ve got so much talent in the side now, so much skill and technique and players who love to pass and move, so I’m hoping that we will impose ourselves on Stoke with our football ability.
“If we play some of our best stuff we’ve got a real chance of getting something from the game.”