Martin O'Neill

O'Neill's Stoke respect

by Stuart Vose

Tough test on horizon, says boss.

Martin O’Neill says upcoming opponents Stoke City have been revolutionized under Tony Pulis, who he will face in the dugout this weekend.

The Potters are in the midst of their fifth straight season in the Barclays Premier League and provide Sunderland’s opposition at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

You know that when you go to Stoke you’ll be in for a battle from start to finish

- Martin O'Neill

“Stoke have had a fantastic time over the last few years – ever since they won promotion,” said O’Neill, who is looking for a first away league win of the season at a ground where he tasted victory last time around.

“They have contested an FA Cup Final and played in Europe. Consider as well that they advanced to the latter stages of the Europa League last season and played against Valencia in February.

“That tells you how far they’ve come over the last few years. The manager has done fantastic job there and has a great relationship with his chairman.

“There’s certainly a vociferous crowd there, too.

“In this league, different teams play different styles. That’s what makes it very interesting. You know that when you go to Stoke you’ll be in for a battle from start to finish.”

The Sunderland manager has a number of selection decisions to wrestle with ahead of the game.

Captain Lee Cattermole is available again after serving a three-match suspension, while the fit-again Phil Bardsley was an unused sub against Newcastle last week.

O’Neill is delighted to have both back in the fold but is taking his time with Bardsley, who is yet to play this season after picking up an ankle problem in pre-season.

“Lee comes into contention after his ban, as does Phil who was on the bench [against Newcastle],” he said.

“I didn’t think one reserve game was enough for him [to start] as he’s been out since the third day of pre-season. That’s a long time.

“He’s making good progress and is getting fitter every day.”