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Sunderland-Stoke City Preview

AP - Sports

Two struggling sides meet at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday when Stoke City host Sunderland.

Mark Hughes' Stoke (2-4-5) have found it difficult to pick up points as they continue to settle in to their new playing style, and were without a win in eight games going into last week's international break. Despite the disappointing run of results, midfielder Stephen Ireland believes the fact that the Potters secured draws in three of their last four games shows that they are ready to kick on and move up the table.

"We aren't down in the dumps or worrying about things because we know we are a better team than where we currently find ourselves in the league table," said Ireland. "We have put some good work in on the training pitches though, we are feeling confident and we know that we are just one victory away from being in a nice mid-table position.

"It's been fine margins so far this season, and we are disappointed that we haven't picked up more points, but hopefully starting on Saturday we can put that right and move ourselves up into a position that we feel we are more deserving of."

Sunderland (2-1-8) suffered a nightmare start to the season, picking up just one point from their first eight games and sacking manager Paolo di Canio. However, the Black Cats have responded superbly to new boss Gus Poyet, beating both local rivals Newcastle United and Premier League title challengers Manchester City in two of their three matches since his appointment. The former Brighton boss believes that the mood is good around the club, and that the recent international break has been excellent preparation for a busy six weeks of fixtures coming up.

"In terms of working and the atmosphere, it's been exceptional," said Poyet. "Of course not all the players have been here, but we cannot complain as it's the same for all the teams. We've had a very good few days and have been working very hard. Overall, I'm very happy with the international break so far.

"Of course, you want the players to play and come back fit. So far, so good. We are looking forward to seeing everybody and seeing any problems so that we can decide the best eleven to go and win the game."

Stoke have injury doubts over Ireland (ankle) and Andy Wilkinson (knee), but Sunderland are the only team in the league to report a clean bill of health going into the weekend's matches.

Both games between these clubs ended in draws last season. It was a 0-0 draw when they met at the Britannia Stadium in October, while goals from John O'Shea and Jonathan Walters ensured that the points were again shared when they met at the Stadium of Light in May.

Stoke have won just one of their last seven Premier League matches against the Black Cats, and have failed to score in five of those games. Since being promoted to the English top flight the Potters have managed just six goals in 14 meetings with Sunderland, but all three of their wins over the north-east club have come at the Britannia Stadium.

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