Evans sticks up for Stoke

Tony Pulis’ men have been stereotyped as an uncompromising

bunch, who have achieved their present status through brawn rather

than brain.

However, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson does not believe that

perception is accurate.

And, ahead of Tuesday night’s Old Trafford meeting, neither does

Evans.

“Nobody ever looks forward to playing against Stoke,” the

Northern Ireland defender told United’s official website. “They

have a different approach to the way most teams play.

“People have this preconception of them and think that because

they’re a big side they’re a dirty side.

“But that’s not the case at all. They are hard but fair and Tony

Pulis goes out of his way to make sure they do not cross that

line.”

Ferguson regards it as a challenge, which will be even more the

case given United’s long injury list.

However, they do have a decent record against the Potteries

outfit, against whom they have not lost on home soil since

1976.

And the weekend FA Cup setback at Anfield has placed even more

emphasis on the next few weeks, when Chelsea, Liverpool and

Tottenham must all be faced.

With the Europa League – which United are competing for as a

direct result of their Champions League failure – as the only other

cup competition they can win, focus on the domestic campaign has to

be total.

Three points behind Manchester City already, United cannot

afford to slip any further adrift if they are to gain any advantage

from their vast experience over the run-in.

“It is a big programme,” said Ferguson. “From the middle of

January until we go to Tottenham, it looked quite a daunting

programme.

“But when you go back years ago in our title campaigns, we have

always had periods of must win-games in a row and that is what we

have here.

“It is important to keep on City’s coat-tails and hopefully come

the important part of the season, we still are.”

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.