‘A lot to play for’ – Stoke City manager happy to have looming headache


Michael O’Neill is ready to embrace a looming selection headache as key players start to emerge from Stoke City’s treatment room.

Joe Allen made his long-awaited comeback on Saturday after nine months out following a ruptured Achilles tendon. Sam Clucas (foot) and John Obi Mikel (calf and groin) hope to be back too, on Tuesday against Nottingham Forest (8pm).

O’Neill has been impressed with Jordan Cousins, Josh Tymon and Jordan Thompson stepping up as the injury list kept growing – but he will be a happy man to go into the second half of the season with almost everyone at his disposal.

He said: “We probably haven’t been able to rotate the team as much as we’d like because of the players who have been out.

“We probably have the opportunity to rotate players a little bit more now, which will keep us a little bit fresher, I think, as well.

“The stronger we can be the better coming through this period going into the second half of the season. We have a lot to play for and these players will help us.”

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Adam Davies (knee) and Angus Gunn (ankle) are still sidelined, Morgan Fox (hamstring) is expected to be out for four to six weeks and Tyrese Campbell (knee) will miss the rest of the season.

But slowly and surely, players have started to become available again after a rotten run of injuries. Ryan Shawcross has been in the squad for nearly a month now, passing the 450-appearance barrier from the bench.

Allen has had a long slog to get back into contention after the painful injury he picked up in the final game before the first national lockdown, a 5-1 romp over Hull back in March.

The 30-year-old came through 75 minutes for the under-23s last week and came off the bench for half an hour against Coventry on Saturday.

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O’Neill said: “It was difficult for Joe because he was operated on and then we went into lockdown.

“On his way back there was a period when we had to step him off it a little bit just to protect him.

“But I think for him to be back at this stage, still in December when the injury happened in March, he’s done an extremely good job.

“I have to say that the work he has put in has been incredible.

“We’ve really had to hold him back in the last two or three weeks just to make sure the strength was there and that he’d be able to deal with the competitiveness of the Championship, which he always is.

“We saw his quality in the short period he was on the pitch at Coventry.”

The silver lining for Allen has been the timing, even if that also made his recovery more difficult. Crucially, he has not missed the European Championships, which were postponed from last summer until 2021.

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That is not at the forefront of his mind at the moment, however.

“Joe just wants to get back playing,” said O’Neill. “The summer will take care of itself if he’s playing in our team.

“I’ve no doubt he will be a big part of the Wales team but he just has to continue to build. He had 30 minutes on Saturday and he can build that up.

“We know what he brings to the team and he’s been a big loss in the period we’ve not had him.”





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