Friday, September 25

Behind enemy lines - Stoke City

United will tomorrow take to the field at the Britannia Stadium against a canny Stoke side who defied the critics in May to secure a second season in the big time.

They've had a mixed start in season 2009/10, with a 4-0 drubbing at Anfield and a narrow 2-1 defeat against Chelsea among the highlights.

So how do Stoke fans feel ahead of tomorrow's clash in the Potteries?
Dave Knapper (pictured below), a lifelong City fan, a Stoke Sentinel journalist and a writter for the Why Delilah fansite, gives us an insight into Saturday's opponents.

As many football fans across the country are, Stoke City followers have been hugely long-suffering.

Many have seen the club go from one of the biggest in the land during the 1970s to plodding along in Division Two (old money) aimlessly travelling to grounds we never thought we would.

However all those years of heartache were wiped away in 2007 when Stoke managed to get back in to the Premier League after 23 years outside the top flight.

What was a real bug bare for fans was this was as a club that had such players as Stanley Matthews, Gordon Banks, Alan Hudson, Peter Shilton, over the years…and now there is a real sense the good times aren’t too far away.

Last year the club was written off and when the players put up something of a scrap, the “experts” rounded on Stoke for the style of play and focused on the long throws.

Interesting to note, the two goals we popped past Hull to secure our Premier League status both came from open play. So there.

The manager has made some good signings over the summer with your steady heads like Dean Whitehead and Danny Collins, coupled with the more high profile Tuncay and Robert Huth.

Couple that lot with the existing side – which achieved a 12th place finish last year – and the mix is coming together.

Tevez grabs the winner at United's last trip to Stoke last December.

Noone is expecting miracles in the Potteries, and being honest, most fans will be delighted to finish anywhere near 12th again.

The Premier League is a tough, tough, division and we are more than aware the team must establish itself before ever really pushing on to the higher reaches.

But the grounding is there, we have a solid backline, an improving midfield and a decent forward line – made all the more exciting with the arrival of Tuncay.

On to Saturday’s game and after the rather closely ran affair of the encounter of Boxing Day, we aren’t expecting a battering. But we all know the threat United pose. As far as our side goes, we do have players who can cause you issues.

I’m sure the name Tuncay is familiar to United supporters after his hat-trick against the Reds in the Champions League a few years back.

If Ricardo Fuller shakes off his injury he is a handful for anyone and Dave Kitson has finally found his goal-scoring touch.

In midfield, I’m sure you know of Rory’s throws, but his all round game is impressive and he continues to do the mopping up work.

Glenn Whelan is really adjusting to life in the Premier League so watch out if we get a free-kick and Whelan steps up.

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Stoke's last outing - an entertaining 4-3 Carling Cup win over Blackpool.

Out on the flanks Matthew Etherington and Liam Lawrence both have the work rate and can pose a problem.

At the back and that’s where we are very strong.

Our captain Abdoulaye Faye is a machine and is hero worshipped here in the Potteries.

He is partnered by your former defender Ryan Shawcross who looks every bit capable of achieving international honours one day. Please don’t take him back.

Tony Pulis may go for five at the back and if he does then expect to see Robert Huth with Danny Collins out on the left and Andy Wilkinson on the right. But who knows what we will go for!

In the sticks is Thomas Sorensen, the Great Dane. He’s been solid for us and something of a fan favourite.

As for the season as a whole, then I think many would be delighted with a flirtation with the cups and a finish a few places from the relegation spots.

United, well, you always do…alright, don’t you?

Stoke's last Premier League outing - a 1-1 draw at Bolton.

After losing Ronaldo it was always going to be a tough year and it was interesting to see Fergie not cause any big waves in the transfer market.

If you’re not in the top two in January I wouldn’t be surprised to see the cheque book open.

Chelsea have started strong, as have Liverpool. Hmm, tough to call. I’m staying on the fence and say…you’ll definitely be in the top two.

At the Britannia Stadium you will experience a big, big atmosphere.

I’m sure United fans have seen plenty of those in the past, but there is something very raw about the one at the Brit.

The fans are fiercely proud of the club and the city and are still embroiled in the Premier League party.

We haven’t simply become part of the ‘sit down and clap’ brigade and there isn’t a prawn sandwich in site.

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