Man Utd V Stoke at Old Trafford - Match Preview

Ferguson set for Stoke challenge

Sir Alex Ferguson is relishing the prospect of his Manchester United side facing the unique challenge presented by Stoke at Old Trafford.

After Saturday's FA Cup defeat to Liverpool, an encounter with Tony Pulis' battlers would not normally be viewed as the ideal method of recovery.

Yet, in much the same way as the Red Devils tended to overcome Bolton during the era under Sam Allardyce when they managed to get under the skin of all the other big clubs, they have emerged relatively unscathed in their meetings with Stoke.

A draw at the Britannia Stadium in September represented the first points dropped to the Potteries outfit since they were promoted to the Premier League in 2008.

And United must go back to 1976 for their last Old Trafford loss to Stoke, courtesy of a late goal from club legend Alan Bloor.

"You know what Tony Pulis's team will be like, they are the same all the time," said Ferguson. "They will be 100% committed and they always get stuck in. You have to cope with that. To be honest, I always enjoy it too.

"It was like when we used to play Wimbledon. No-one used to look forward to playing against them but my team started to because it was a physical challenge and in terms of taking the ball and playing football.

"Stoke are a different team altogether but they still have the same qualities of never giving in, so it is always a good challenge for us."

Although Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Anderson are all inching closer to full fitness, it seems Nani may be out for a significant period with a foot injury.

Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones are continuing to nurse ankle problems, so the main avenue of good news from the treatment table could come from Rio Ferdinand, who has returned to training after a back spasm, even if Ferguson felt unable to risk an appearance off the bench at Anfield.

Meanwhile, Stoke fear a backlash from United as they try to take out their frustrations on the Potters.

A bitter defeat by Liverpool in the FA Cup at the weekend means United's only chance of silverware this season now is the Premier League, and Stoke defender Robert Huth admitted there may be better times to visit the reigning champions.

He told Press Association Sport: "It's not ideal they lost - they will probably turn up now and be on fire against us. That's what we have to expect.

"Whenever they seem to lose a game, in the next one they perform almost like the old United, so it will be a tough game.

"I think they will come out all guns blazing. It will obviously have been a frustrating result, losing against Liverpool.

"They're out of the FA Cup, out of the Champions League, so it's the league for them now, so I'm sure they'll be up for it."

Huth said Stoke would take heart from Blackburn's performance at Old Trafford last month when they Rovers stunned United with a 3-2 victory despite being bottom of the table at the time.

He added: "Blackburn showed it can be done. It's a 90-minute game. Anything can happen, we just have to be positive.

"Blackburn frustrated them. You could argue Man U were not at their best, but it's still a tough place to go and win.

"I'm sure we'll be looking at previous matches where teams have done well against them, so maybe we can get something."

Matthew Etherington is a doubt for the trip to Manchester after suffering a groin injury in the weekend's FA Cup win over Derby.

Mamady Sidibe (knee) is a long-term absentee but apart from that Pulis has virtually a full squad to choose from.

Source: PA

Source: PA