JOEY BARTON has urged his Bristol Rovers players to “fight fire with fire” when they attempt to derail Sunderland’s promotion push at the Memorial Ground this weekend.

The Black Cats head to Bristol on Saturday knowing they will climb into a top-two position for the first time this season if they better Peterborough United’s result in their home game with Accrington Stanley.

Bristol Rovers’ players have their own incentive to perform on Saturday, with their midweek defeat to Swindon Town, in front of watching Black Cats boss Lee Johnson, having seen them tumble into the relegation zone.

Barton, who took charge of Rovers just over a month ago, has plenty of history with Sunderland, having taken a series of digs at the club during his time as both a player at Newcastle United and manager of League One side Fleetwood Town.

The former midfielder is hoping to further antogonise the Sunderland support tomorrow, but accepts his side will have to raise their standards significantly if they are to inflict what would be the Black Cats’ first defeat in 12 games.

“A champion’s response is about how you get up off the canvas,” said Barton. “These lads have got Sunderland on Saturday. Lee Johnson was in the stands (on Tuesday) for a side who are chasing promotion.

“In our league, you’re either getting hunted or you’re hunting, and at this moment in time, we’ve got to dust ourselves down and we’ve got to be ready to meet fire with fire.

“It can’t just be me talking about it, it can’t just be me and the staff talking about it all the time.

"The players have got to show it through action.

"They’re fighting for their lives as League One players and they’re fighting for their lives at this football club.”

Meanwhile, Sunderland’s new owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, held his first virtual meeting with some of the club’s fans last night.

Louis-Dreyfus, who purchased a majority stake in the club from former owner Stewart Donald earlier this year, presented his plans for Sunderland's future growth and development to representatives of some of the club's supporters’ groups, before answering questions alongside other senior club officials.

The minutes of the meeting, which was staged remotely, are expected to be published at some stage in the future.