Preview: Sunderland v Stoke City

ADAM Johnson enjoyed – actually endured is a better word – a nervous final day of last season.

Sunderland's Adam Johnson
Sunderland's Adam Johnson

ADAM Johnson enjoyed – actually endured is a better word – a nervous final day of last season.

As he sat in what became his normal position in Manchester City’s stand, his team-mates were busy throwing away the Premier League title.

With literally minutes of an entire campaign remaining, the most expensively-assembled team in British football history needed two goals against QPR to nip the championship away from their pals from across the city.

We all know how that finished. Those of us who didn’t have a vested interest can only imagine what hell and then delirium City’s fans went through.

Sunderland were, sort of, involved in the drama as they entertained Manchester United that day, but there weren’t any nerves among the Stadium of Light home support.

Sunderland were safe so the result wasn’t of massive importance.

That’s how Johnson would like this season to end. A final-day, nothing-to-see-here game would do for him.

He doesn’t want to have to take something from Tottenham at White Hart lane or hope another teams slips up somewhere.

So a victory against Stoke tonight and a point at least against Southampton next week would suit him, and his heart, down to the ground.

Johnson said: “I think one more win guarantees we stay up.

“There are a few teams around the 37-point mark and none of them are too far away.

“It is so tight down there and most of the sides have difficult games coming up.

“One win definitely guarantees it for us; 100% if I’m honest.

“However, we want to try and get as many games as possible in terms of confidence and finishing the season on a high.

“I know we have to look behind us, but at the same time we should be looking to win the games ahead of us to finish as high up the league as possible.”

He added: “We don’t want to go into the final day needing something.

“We have a tough game on the last Sunday at White Hart Lane because Tottenham will probably have everything to play for in terms of the Champions League qualification.

“We don’t want to be going there having to rely on our and other results.

“We should have had enough in the team to have sorted this out last Monday at Villa, but it wasn’t to be.

“These two homes games are so important for us. Two wins could push us well up the table.”

Sunderland fans have had some strange seasons to contend with in their time. Few in recent years would match this one.

A controversial and surprising change of manager, good wins and bad defeats in what has been for the most part been a battle to stay in the league have kept everyone on their toes.

None of that really matters right now. All that counts is Sunderland staying in the Premier League.

Johnson agreed with this sentiment. He said: “All we want to do is make sure we stay up and look ahead to starting next season afresh.

“The fact we are in a position with three games to go – and that we could still go down – was unthinkable at the start of the season.”

What is unquestionable is at Sunderland are a better team, or at least more organised, under Paolo Di Canio – even taking last Monday’s appalling night at Villa Park into consideration.

Johnson has benefited. He’s looked more and more like an international-class winger.

He added: “The manager has given us more direction and more of a game plan in terms of how we should play.

“He has given us confidence as well. That’s the type of person the manager is – he is very positive and the lads have fed off that.

“Also it’s better playing in a winning them, which we had done for two weeks there. So everyone’s mood was always gong to improve.

“So if we can keep the confidence highwe can be a really good team.”

Di Canio said last week the 6-1 defeat at Villa might be, in relative terms, not the worst thing to happen to his team in the long-term.

The manager believes the memory will help his players over the last three games, as it was a reminder they are some way from coasting to a Premier League win.

Di Canio said: “Now we have a big scar in our body to remind us if we get beat like we did last week then we can get beat again.

“I’m sure we’ll perform properly.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll win 3-0, but it means we perform with desire, dedication, commitment as we did against Newcastle and Everton.

“It won’t be a problem again. Even if they lose 10-0, what happened last Monday is too much, even for the worst professional in the world.

“Then we play again this Monday night in front of our fans.

“I can bet everything I’ve got that there will be no repeat. We could still lose because you can lose at any time and against side

“However, I am sure you will see a different approach, and a different desire and they will not be worried about getting the ball.

“It will be two steps forward instead of 10 steps back.

“I am sure they are going to approach this game in a completely different way.”

Then Sunderland fans can look forward to a relatively untroubled and even rather placid May 19 in north London.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer