The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Sunderland
A test of red-stripe recovery.
Hope is a curious thing: like weeds, it's difficult to kill completely but easy to chop down regularly. After struggling in different ways during autumn, both Stoke and Sunderland have had cause for cautious optimism since mid-October, but who will come out of this game fearing a cruel winter?
- Swansea 3-3 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Birmingham 4-4p Stoke (LC)
- Man Utd 3-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 0-0 West Brom (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Man City (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 So'ton (LC)
- Hull 1-0 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Swansea 4-0 S'land (Prem)
With a fresh outlook under Mark Hughes, Stoke's season started well with two wins in the first three and bright showings against the top teams, including an unlucky defeat at Arsenal in which their near-outpassing of the hosts had stat-lovers bashing their instruments in disbelief. But blunt performances since have turned August's fifth place into November's 17.
That said, Stoke have looked better of late, and Hughes will hope to see his side show the good signs from the Liberty – blazing out of the traps into a 2-0 lead, and refusing to buckle after going behind – without the worrying middle bit in which they let Swansea dominate.
Saturday's visitors Sunderland have had their own reinvention under Gus Poyet - and unlike Stoke's visible but as yet relatively unproductive turnaround (last four fixtures: three draws and that Old Trafford loss), theirs has yielded positive results.
After a hopeless opening defeat at Swansea, Poyet has led his new side to home wins over Newcastle and Man City, sandwiching a controversial nine-man defeat at Hull.
Although the Black Cats have generally had more time on the ball than in Paolo Di Canio's possession-light era, they can be expected to sit back at the Brit and see what exactly Stoke have to offer. Mark Hughes will hope the home fans don't adopt the same stance - not least as an away win would see Sunderland draw level on points.
Stoke expect Robert Huth and Asmir Begovic to shake off ankle-anguish and limpy-leg. Sunderland expect a full turn-out bar Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena, serving their last game on the naughty step.
Key battle: Peter Crouch vs Wes Brown
Stoke have looked much better since reintroducing Crouch up top in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford. Ranging along the front-line, the big man has helped knit together the Potters' attack: in the 3-3 at Swansea a fortnight ago, he was Stoke's third-most prolific passer after Steven Nzonzi and Stephen Ireland.
FFT's Jonathan Fadugba has a theory that Wes Brown can save Sunderland's season, and the centre-back – who was offered a deal last summer to terminate his contract – has certainly improved their back-line since returning. Against Man City he made just one tackle but six interceptions – and also created the winner for Phil Bardsley, another whose Sunderland career seemed over under Di Canio.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land 1-0 Stoke (Prem, May 13)
- Stoke 0-0 S'land (Prem, Oct 12)
- Stoke 0-1 S'land (Prem, Feb 12)
- S'land 4-0 Stoke (Prem, Sep 11)
- Stoke 3-2 S'land (Prem, Feb 11)
Chelsea team-mates for the 1997/98 season, Hughes and Poyet were both tipped for the Potters job in the summer, but their managerial paths haven't crossed. The Uruguayan has only four games' experience in the Premier League, while the Welshman hasn't managed outside it (apart from being at the helm of his national team). That said, Poyet has been to the Brit - losing 3-0 with Brighton in the 2011 FA Cup Fifth Round.
Facts and figures
- Sunderland have mustered just 26 shots on target this season; the lowest tally in the league.
More facts at FFT's Stoke vs Sunderland Stats Zone page
Tips and trends
- Stoke have scored after the break in 10 of their last 11 home games against bottom-six opposition, providing at least 3 goals in nine of those matches and 4 or more in 6.
- In 12 of Sunderland’s last Premier League trips they have been beaten 10 times, conceding first in 7 of their last 10 away games against bottom-six teams.
- There have been at least 3 goals in 8 of Sunderland’s last 10 fixtures on the road.
Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Nervy game ends in Poyet's debut first-class draw, with a Crouch equaliser. 1-1