Sidibe musters Stoke defiance

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The Independent Online

The Stoke City striker Mamady Sidibe will be reunited with front-line partner Ricardo Fuller this weekend believing the Premier League elite desperately want to see the club relegated.

Sidibe and Fuller struck up a fine partnership in Stoke's promotion season but through injury, suspension and the arrival of £5.5m signing Dave Kitson, the pair have started only five games together this term. But with Kitson likely to be out of Saturday's home game against Hull with a knee problem and Fuller back from a suspension, manager Tony Pulis's old guard will be in action.

But Sidibe feels that the Potteries upstarts are still on the big boys' wish-list to go down. He said: "If we keep going the way we are we will have a good chance of staying in the Premier League.

"I do not know whether the Premier League clubs would think it good if all three promoted sides stayed up, they want us to go down. But we are proving the critics wrong, everyone expects you to go straight back down. But we know it is not finished by a long way, there is a long way to go, and we must keep working every game."

Pulis will give Kitson and defender Ryan Shawcross – struggling with a back injury – every chance to prove themselves ready to face Phil Brown's side, promoted with Stoke.

But Hull have surpassed even Stoke's impressive start to the campaign with 22 points from 14 games. Sidibe said: "Hull's team has changed since the Championship, we know this will be different to last season and a very tough game. We know we must take a point from every game if we are to survive. And against Hull that will be even more important.

"I am enjoying the top flight, the position I have and the job I do does not put me in front of goal very much, but it is all part of the plan and I will do the hard work if that is what is needed. I am happy because I am playing. I will probably be back as a partner with Ricardo again on Saturday, it is a partnership that has worked well and we have played alongside each other for a long time.

"We know what we can do, we understand each other's movement. This is important for me. I understand him and he understands me when we are on the pitch. And we are starting now to understand the Premier League, too. It is not easy but things are going well and we are used to it now.

"Hull have done well, with some fine away wins like at Spurs and Arsenal. That is not easy for a promoted team. For us they are a challenge because of that. But at home we are a very difficult side to beat, they are strong and have made a big impact."

Pulis also has captain Andy Griffin unavailable with a damaged hand, and does not expect Kitson to be fit this weekend. He said: "If Ryan [Shawcross] feels OK and has no pain, then he will be able to play. Dave has tweaked the medial ligament in his knee. It is not as bad as we first thought, but he is a bit more doubtful. We will wait until the last minute for them both.

"Ryan has two small fractures on his back, but they are not in a dangerous area and will not concern the medical people. It just depends on whether he is pain-free. You do not want injuries, certainly at this time with a difficult run of games coming up until the new year."

The Hull forward Craig Fagan has returned to training as he steps up his recovery from a badly broken leg. Fagan required surgery after being felled by a late tackle from Newcastle's Danny Guthrie in the Tigers' win at St James' Park on 13 September.

The 25-year-old was initially ruled out for three months and Phil Brown yesterday confirmed his rehabilitation is well on track. Brown said: "He is back on the training ground. He is not back with the first-team squad yet but it will not be long before he is pushing for a place."

Frenchman Bernard Mendy is also likely to return to first-team training today after making encouraging progress from minor knee surgery.

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