Club Focus – Sunderland – Bruce calls for bottle while Bent admits players are hungry

Sunderland fans may still be reeling from last weekend’s derby day defeat, but the world continues to turn and the players know it will need to be business as usual this weekend when they welcome struggling Stoke City to the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The Potters travel to the North-East on the back of three straight league defeats, and currently find themselves looming ominously just one point above the relegation zone. The Black Cats are only two points better off, however, and recent history would seem to indicate a tight match between the pair – after all, one must look all the way back to August 28 since Stoke were involved in a league match with more than a single goal swing either way.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has been working his players hard in training in the hope that the wounded Cats can pounce back to their best, and with a few exceptions has a fully fit squad to choose from. Speaking to the club’s official website, Bruce said: “We’re bitterly disappointed. We know what it means. We have no excuses.” The former Manchester United captain continued: “The one thing we have to do is batten down the hatches, accept the flak and come out fighting. That’s the mark of a team, to come out and do that. We can’t wait for Saturday to come around so we can try to make up for it.

Bruce knows that Sunderland will need to attack the visitors from the opening whistle, and self-doubt can play no part in a match so important to the confidence and morale of players and fans alike. However, the players must be in to expect a fight, as Stoke have been criticised from various quarters for their more robust approach to life in the Premier League. Bruce, however, refuses to speak ill of the Potters’ tactics: “I don’t criticize anyone in the way they play. Tony Pulis will do it in his own way. They are big, aggressive and physical…that’s what the Barclays Premier League is about – different teams, different systems and different styles of play. Certainly Tony is getting the best out of what’s he’s got.

A victory is something Sunderland should be aiming for here, but it is far from a dead cert. Despite their struggles, Stoke have become one of the most difficult teams to play against since their promotion to the top flight two years ago, augmented by the fact that their lowest finish in that time has been 12th – not bad at all for a club who had been absent from the top-flight for over two decades! Top scorer Darren Bent, however, feels that the players are hungry enough to begin their redemption: “We have got to go into the game mentally strong because we know what kind of game it is going to be. There is no reason why we can’t get a result – I hope the fans get behind us. Just as we would have done if we had beaten Newcastle, we need to try to forget and push on because the Stoke game is a different kettle of fish.

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