IF ONLY Sunderland’s survival bid was solely being governed by events on the field.
On the eve of Sunderland’s crunch encounter at Hull last month, Gus Poyet had to deal with the aftershocks stemming from Adam Johnson’s arrest.
Advocaat will surely have been toying with the possibility of using Johnson at the Britannia Stadium.
Dick Advocaat experienced similar yesterday after Johnson was charged with four offences – a case which will spill over for the remainder of this season too, with the England international in court on the date of Sunderland’s penultimate game at Arsenal.
The club will have to be patient in waiting for the outcome of the legal process, but can Johnson really be used now at Stoke tomorrow?
Will he be mentally fit for one thing?
Advocaat will surely have been toying with the possibility of using Johnson at the Britannia Stadium prior to yesterday’s news.
Johnson is arguably Sunderland’s best player and after the shambles against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, some creativity clearly needed to be restored to the side.
But what can Advocaat do now to tinker?
Very little is, unfortunately, the answer.
The ex-Holland manager had experimented with a fresh system in the behind-closed-doors friendly against Scottish Premiership club Hamilton last week.
But without Johnson, there are minimal options out wide to abandon the 4-3-3 and switch to an orthodox 4-4-2, with Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giaccherini still sidelined, albeit Will Buckley is now back.
By necessity, it may have to be a case of same again in the Potteries; an unchanged line-up perhaps for the first time this season.
In fairness, Poyet had tinkered around with Sunderland’s formation in a bid to find a winning solution – 3-1-4-2 and an orthodox 4-4-2 both being deployed in the latter days of the Uruguayan’s reign.
Yet it had little effect.
However clever the tactical nuisances, a lack of quality is a barrier which is tough to overcome.
Above all else, what Sunderland must have tomorrow is some attitude.
They need that dogged determination to press and harry the opposition, which was there in spades during the Wear-Tyne derby.
Sunderland might not have created a glut of opportunities against a poor Newcastle side on April 5 and may have required a “worldie” winner, but their will-to-win saw them triumph.
The Black Cats need to want it more this weekend. They need to demonstrate their hunger to remain in the top flight.
For while on paper, Stoke have nothing to play for, the Potters will not want to let their campaign end on a whimper.
Stoke have a very real chance of securing a top-eight finish and that would be some testament to the remoulding job Mark Hughes has done since taking the reins from Tony Pulis.
Confidence shouldn’t be a problem for them either after last weekend’s win over top-six chasers Southampton.
The Potters can relax and enjoy this one.
The absence of injured speedster Victor Moses is some crumb of comfort for Sunderland, considering the mauling handed to the Black Cats by Yannick Bolasie a fortnight ago.
After the damage Bolasie did to John O’Shea and Santiago Vergini, it wouldn’t have taken Hughes long to work out a strategy to use Moses in a similar manner.
But let’s remember, Sunderland demonstrated back in October that they could get the better of Stoke.
It was one of the few “good days” Sunderland have had this season.
If that is to happen again tomorrow, Sunderland’s big-name players have to justify those reputations and prove they have the mettle to handle the mental fight in this battle for survival.