Options for Sunderland boss O’Neill at Stoke - Gary Rowell column

Steven Fletcher
Steven Fletcher
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THE DERBY is over now and Sunderland must move on to the bread and butter of the Premier League.

The Britannia Stadium is always a difficult place to go to – even though Sunderland won there last year – because you know what to expect from Tony Pulis’ men.

Stoke have only conceded one goal at home this season and although they have only played three times at the Britannia, it’s still an impressive statistic, particularly against a team like Sunderland who are not creating a lot.

No doubt, Stoke will be typically uncompromising and it will be drilled into Sunderland’s players this week that they can’t afford to give away unnecessary set pieces because that’s where the Potters hurt you badly.

But Martin O’Neill does have choices and options throughout his team.

Lee Cattermole’s suspension is over now and I would think he is a shoe-in to come straight back. I think O’Neill recognises the value he brings to the team, especially in a game like this.

Whenever Cattermole is fit or not suspended, O’Neill always picks him and I would be amazed if he did not bring him straight back.

Phil Bardsley is back too after making the bench against Newcastle and he is the type of player who does not let you down, his attitude can never be faulted.

Then there are people like Louis Saha who didn’t do himself any harm on Sunday.

It will be an interesting team selection from O’Neill, because I do get the feeling that he likes a settled side.

Like myself, he played in an era where there was not the rotation you get these days.

But Steven Fletcher had absolutely no service against Newcastle and he’s entitled to think he should be supplied a bit better.

I look at the performance on Sunday and I am convinced they are capable of far more than we witnessed.

I know it was a derby game and they are intense.

As a player, you’d be a liar if you said you were not nervous on occasions like that. But Sunderland have not played well in the derby for so long.

At least now though, there are a decent run of games ahead for both the players and supporters.

We’re two months into the season yet we have already three free weekends – two for the international breaks and one when the Reading game was postponed.

I am looking forward to some continuity in the campaign, getting back to playing every weekend.

When you consider we’ve only played seven Premier League games and it’s nearly the end of October, it’s a bit daft.

Thankfully, you can look at the fixture list and get ready for what lies ahead for Sunderland.

READ the full Gary Rowell column in Tuesday’s Echo