SUNDERLAND HEAD to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, searching for just their second win of the Premier League campaign.
The Potters have had an equally indifferent start, winning once and drawing five of their opening seven games this term. However, it is fair to say that Tony Pulis` side have endured a significantly more tricky start, playing Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United already.
Pulis` side have certainly progressed on and off the field from the side that entered the Premier League in 2008. The reliance on Rory Delap`s inhumane chucking ability and the aerial prowess of the likes of Leon Cort and Abdoulaye Faye is now very much a thing of the past.
`Proper` footballers have been recruited gradually since, with incremental improvement year-on-year achieved thanks to the addition of ball-happy players such as Matty Etherington, Jermaine Pennant (currently out on-loan), and most recently Michael Kightly.
This season`s top-scorer to date is England international, Peter Crouch – a sign of the times at the Brit – the 6`7 forward might be most notable for his stature, but he brings goals to the party too.
The former QPR, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Southampton, Spurs and Liverpool striker has four to his name already this term and bagged 10 during his maiden campaign with the Potters.
A proud international record of 22 from 42 is amongst the best for England and has taken the Macclesfied-born forward to the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
The big-name addition at the Britannia this summer was of course that of free agent, Michael Owen.
The 32 year-old left Old Trafford over the summer in order to get more playing time & has so far made three substitute appearances as he begins to work his way back to match fitness after several years of inactivity at United.
One of the most feared Premier League strikers of his generation, Owen`s appetite for the game should be unquestionable as he seeks further playing time in spite of his considerable wealth and activities outside of football.
With 162 league goals in 356 top-flight appearances, the 82 cap England international brings bags of experience whether from the bench or from the off.
In midfield, Steven N`Zonzi was once a target of Arsenal, but the former Blackburn Rovers man has ended up at the Britannia this summer after seeing his former employers relegated.
The rangy Frenchman spent three years with Rovers, amassing 86 league appearances and scoring five times.
A box-to-box midfielder, N`Zonzi was one of several midfield acquisitions this summer with Maurice Edu, Jamie Ness & Charlie Adam also joining the Potters.
Stoke have just one injury concern going into Saturday`s game – midfielder Glenn Whelan is currently sidelined with a hamstring problem.
Martin O`Neill could welcome Phil Bardsley back into the starting XI following injury whilst Lee Cattermole is available again after serving a three-game ban.
Stoke City: Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross (c), Wilson; Walters, N`Zonzi, Adam, Whithead, Kightly; Crouch.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O`Shea (c), Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Cattermole (c), Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Referee: Mr M Halsey.