So the Britannia is next, a Stadium which hasn’t imposed it’s famed toughness on us in recent years. It is a huge game to help us keep up the momentum built in our two momentus recent home wins. It is also a big game for Stoke City and we were lucky to get a few moments of ESPN blogger James Whittaker’s time (@northstokie) to talk about Sunderland, Stoke, Mark Hughes, the relegation battle and of course the weekend’s match.
WAW: Perhaps eventful is a polite way to describe Sunderland's season so far - how have you viewed the events on Wearside?
James: As soon as you brought in Paolo Di Canio I feared the worse for you despite him keeping you up. Now he's gone you've gone for another gamble but one who is a much better choice. Gus Poyet has got a big job on his hands and that won't be helped by the plethora of players brought in by your Director of Football, that relationship will be key if you're to make the most of January's transfer window. The appointment of Di Canio, Roberto De Fanti and all the players brought in will set you back a couple of years and were it not for the ridiculous goings on at Cardiff and Hull I'd expect goings on up there would be under the spotlight more than they have been.
WAW: Where do you expect us to finish?
James: I had you down as being relegated this season and I think that's still a possibility but in bringing in Poyet means it's not as not as much of a possibility as it was under Di Canio. The start Poyet has made has been impressive and with a good window and a prevailing wind there's no reason why you can't pull clear of trouble.
WAW: Stoke have gone through a massive change themselves this summer. Mark Hughes did his reputation no favours at QPR - how have things started out for you under his stewardship?
James: Opinions are divided between those who were desperate for change and the Pulis apologists, being one of the former group I've been encouraged by his approach to the mammoth task of changing the club's entire mind set on and off the pitch. Whilst some think this should happen overnight in reality it will take much longer and with the patience of those in the stands and decent backing in January I think we'll be just fine. It's all about consolidation and transition this season so a finish outside the bottom three would be a good season and one which would see us push on for that top ten finish the season after. It may well be that the top ten isn't far-fetched for this campaign but sensible fans would see that as a bonus not a requirement for his first campaign in charge.
Do you think you are seriously threatened by relegation this season?
We are in as much as we are down there but I'm not panicking just yet. We've suddenly found our scoring feet, are even attempting to win away from home and the style is much more pleasing on the eye. That said, we've developed an unhealthy obsession for throwing away leads but as I say the side is still in transition so we just need to find the right balance to be tight at the back whilst still being a threat up top. The margins are fine, we've only lost one game by more than the single goal so hopefully some fine tweaking coupled with a decent window will see us right.
Who concerns you most in Sunderland's squad?
Last season I would have said Stephane Sessegnon but this time around I'd plump for Steven Fletcher. If he's fit and selected he'll be a threat on the deck and in the air and is a player who only needs one chance to make a difference; the kind of player we have been missing for years.
How do you expect the game to pan out and what is your prediction for the final score?
I think it will be a tough game, one I expect Hughes will do his best to win (as daft as that sounds) and that will be reflected in his line-up which I anticipate will include one or both of Charlie Adam/Oussama Assaidi. Our home form has been poor and any success for us on the day will be helped or hindered by your own approach, if you play deep and on the counter we'll struggle but if the game is nice and open then I'm hopeful of a win.
I'm going to go for a 2-0 win for Stoke.