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    3

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    3

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    Stoke

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BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE

Britannia Stadium, England

Attendance: 27005

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Pulis wary of Fletcher

Stoke boss Tony Pulis has targeted striker Steven Fletcher as Sunderland's danger man in their Barclays Premier League clash at the Britannia Stadium.

Fletcher, who made the switch from Wolves to Wearside for a fee of £12 million this summer, has scored five of Sunderland's six league goals, the other an own goal by Newcastle's Demba Ba in last weekend's Wear-Tyne derby.

Pulis admitted Fletcher had been one of the players he was interested in bringing to his club this summer, but while he admires the goalscoring form of the Scotland international, the Potters boss is aware Sunderland have a side that poses a threat from several areas of the pitch.

``If you look at the records so far, with the goals he's scored, obviously he's going to be a danger,'' Pulis said of the on-form Fletcher.

``We might have tried (to sign Fletcher) but we've tried with a lot of players.

``But they've got good midfield players. If you look at Adam Johnson, (Sebastian) Larsson's very good off set plays. (James) McClean is good on the other side. (Stephane) Sessegnon can win games.

``They've got experience at the back so they're a decent side.''

Stoke have only earned themselves eight points from their opening eight Premier League games this season, something which has disappointed Pulis despite the calibre of their opposition.

The Potters have faced Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in a tough start to their campaign but now face a less daunting sequence of fixtures where they are scheduled to play Sunderland, Norwich, QPR, West Ham and Fulham.

Sunderland have also picked up eight points from their opening fixtures but still have a game in hand thanks to the postponement of their match against Reading.

Pulis thinks Martin O'Neill's Sunderland are similar to his side as they need something to kick-start their season, with both sides only having one Premier League win to show so far.

``They've got some very good players and he (O'Neill) has got the basis of a very decent squad there,'' Pulis said.

``They're a bit like us. They need a couple of results and a couple of breaks just to get themselves moving. I see them as being, they are and will be, a very competitive Premier League side.

``We've enjoyed the season so far. It's been a tough start. We've played five of the first eight games at home and two of our home games have been against Man City and Arsenal so it's been a very difficult start for us.''

Midfielder Glenn Whelan could be back in contention after he returned to training on Thursday following a hamstring problem suffered earlier this month against Liverpool.

The return of skipper Lee Cattermole from his latest suspension and full-back Phil Bardsley's availability after missing the start of the season with an ankle injury, mean Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has options this weekend.

Were Bardsley to be selected, that would free up emergency right-back Craig Gardner to return to the midfield role he prefers and allow the manager to reshuffle if he felt the need.

Asked if he would consider taking one or more of his stuttering flair players out of the firing line, he replied: ``Over the course of time, I will see, but we will certainly have to change the squad around a bit.

``For instance, we played on Sunday, we play again on Saturday and then we have got a game against Middlesbrough coming up, so it is likely that the side would have to be changed around a little bit, bearing in mind, of course, the games are very, very important to us.

``But in the scheme of things as we speak now at this minute, of course I would like our really good players to be playing a bit better, but it's not as major a concern at the moment to me as you would think.''

A trip to Stoke is never easy at the best of times, but with snow forecast this weekend, it could be even more testing, although having won 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium in February in similar conditions, Sunderland at least have experience to fall back on.

O'Neill said: ``The conditions at Stoke that day were really surreal.

``They cleared some of the snow off the pitch early on, but then down came a flurry with 10 or 12 minutes to go and had that arrived let's say even 15 minutes earlier, there's no way the game would have been finished.''

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