A trip to Stoke City is usually looked upon as a really difficult away fixture, but I saw their last game at the Britannia Stadium against Tottenham and they were out of sorts.
Then they followed it up with another 4-0 defeat at Manchester City.
I’m not saying for a minute that it’s going to be an easy game there for Sunderland on Saturday – it rarely is – but those performances against Spurs and City didn’t look like the tough, resilient and uncompromising Stoke team that everybody knows.
Stoke are one of those sides in the middle of the table with little left to play for and although players won’t admit it, when you’re just seeing out the season, it’s inevitable that you lose that focus and edge which Sunderland have and know they will need in every remaining game.
However, the advantage that Stoke have is that their players can play with no pressure, knowing a bad result for them can’t possibly have the same devastating consequences as it could for Sunderland.
Stoke suffered a massive blow when goalkeeper Jack Butland was injured on England duty and his bad luck is a bonus for Sunderland, as he’s been outstanding this season and would get my vote as the Premier League’s best stopper for this campaign.
Replacement Shay Given – along with defender Phil Bardsley – has Sunderland connections.
There’s been a lot of talk about Stoke moving onto another level having brought imaginative signings to the Britannia, but we’re looking a lot more organised at the back and I’m confident we’ve got the defenders to stop them.
Having beaten Stoke already at home, what better time than Saturday in front of another away sell-out to get our only Premier League double of the season.