Ferguson warns United against complacency ahead of Stoke clash
United boss is expecting tough challenge at struggling Stoke as his side close in on title
Agence France-Presse in Stoke-on-Trent
Alex Ferguson has warned his Manchester United players not to expect an easy ride when they face Premier League strugglers Stoke today.
With Manchester City in FA Cup semi-final action against Chelsea, league leaders United will move a step closer to regaining the title by moving 15 points clear at the top if they win at the Britannia Stadium.
On paper, Stoke appear to pose little threat. They have slumped into the relegation dogfight after losing five of their last six matches and have never beaten United in the Premier League.
But, with Monday's derby defeat against City still fresh in the memory, Ferguson knows United have been below their best in recent weeks and the Scot is keen to guard against complacency as he looks to close out the title race.
He said: "Stoke will be a hard game. It's a difficult place to go to. If you ask any player or manager, when you go to Stoke you know you are going to have to earn your corn. We know we are going to have to perform to get a result.
"They always present a challenge - the set-pieces are good, they are physically strong and the throw-ins are legendary. We have to deal with these situations.
"There are all different types of games and opponents in the Premier League. It gives it that variety of football that no other league has."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis admits he owes it to chairman Peter Coates to turn things around at the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke have just one win this year and Pulis is desperate to avoid relegation for the club's owner, who has developed a strong bond with the boss during their seven years together.
"Peter's been more concerned about me than anything else," Pulis said. "This week he popped down to the training ground. He doesn't usually do that. But he's come and had a cup of tea and a bite to eat with all the players and everything else.
"He's been very good. But I accept that if you don't get results in this job you will always be under pressure.
"It's more pressure for me because Peter is a friend. He doesn't just pay my wages. In adversity, that's when you show your strength of character.
"Over the past five or six years we've built up expectations and the greater you achieve, the more people want.
"Maybe if we'd have finished three of the last four seasons needing to stay up the pressure wouldn't be that great.
"But we've been to Europe, playing teams this club could never have imagined playing against, like Valencia, and got to Wembley."
Meanwhile, Hatem Ben Arfa said he is ready to take a season of frustration out on Sunderland, as Newcastle United gear up for the Tyne-Wear derby with both clubs desperately in need of vital points - and bragging rights in the north-east.
The France international is pushing for only his second start in four months at St James' Park today, after a season dogged by persistent hamstring problems.
Ben Arfa said: "Sometimes, when you're coming back, you have little difficulties along the way. But I'm looking forward to playing what's left of the season."