STOKE manager Michael O’Neill expects tough contest against Scott Parker’s Cherries that are “almost like a fourth relegated team,” but insists: “It’s not like they’re winning games easily.”

His Stoke side have surprised a few early in the Championship campaign to sit fifth in the table and only seven points behind unbeaten league leaders Cherries.

However, they were leading until late against Sheffield United last time out before slipping to a 2-1 defeat.

Previewing the Cherries clash, O’Neill has offered his verdict on Parker’s outfit: “We knew Bournemouth would be strong again this season, they will be disappointed they didn’t go up last season, when you get that scenario it’s almost like a fourth relegated team.

“They didn’t lose really any of their squad and I think they made some very good signings, I think Ryan Christie will prove to be a very good signing, Robbie Brady as well, Gary Cahill, they have added strength to a squad they had last season.

“It will be a tough game, there’s no doubt about that but you have to play tough games in this league and we get the opportunity after a disappointing end to the game Saturday.”

He continued: “They’ve only won two more games than us, we’ve won six out of twelve, they’ve won eight and obviously had those four draws.

“It’s not like they’re winning games easily all the time the nature of the Championship, you have to stay in games and win difficult games and that will be the case again tomorrow night.”

Forward Sam Surridge could be given an opportunity to play against his former club and former teammates following his summer move to Stoke, but the boss adds that any chance he gets will be one he has to earn.

He added: “I’m sure he would, yeah (like to play).

“As I say he has had to be patient with us playing only one striker at the moment. Jacob (Brown), and two tens, Mario (Vrancic) and Nick (Powell) in the last couple of games.

“I think Jacob has demonstrated a lot of really good qualities he gives us a lot of energy at the top end of the pitch, certainly the other strikers would have to demonstrate that if given the opportunity, so they all have different qualities.

“Any player would want to play against their old club so I’m sure Sam would be keen to prove himself given the opportunity.”