‘As threatening as a kitten’ – Michael O’Neill is chewing through toxic legacy of Stoke City predecessors


Who’d be a footballer manager?

Hailed a genius widely on social media after just 25 seconds of a seemingly unwinnable away game when your decision to go for a high early press pays off handsomely with an opening goal, by the end of the game you’re being vilified for failing to hang on to a lead no one ever expected you to have.

It’s a tough gig; made all the more difficult when you’re dealing with a legacy as toxic as the one Michael O’Neill has had to at Stoke City.

While defeats after taking the lead always feel doubly disappointing, this one needs to be put into context.

Firstly, it was a performance that was a country mile better than that at Barnsley in, arguably, a far more important game as the Tykes are our direct opponent in terms of position in the table. Before Wednesday night’s game they were one place below Stoke in 10th Now City sit in that position and the South Yorkshiremen, after another win on Saturday, are a point outside the play-offs with a game in hand.

So, this could prove to have been a pivotal week for Stoke in terms of whether there is any hope of getting into the fringes of the promotion picture.

At Brentford, Stoke were the better team for the first half, delivering the defensive side of O’Neill’s plan perfectly. It really was an encouraging performance, fuelled by Tommy Smith’s early pressing inside the opposition penalty area, which won the ball back and present Jacob Brown with the chance to finish.

But the questions at half-time were fairly obvious: could Stoke keep that up, and would Brentford be so anaemic?

The answer to both was a clear ‘no’.

And here is where the legacy comes in.


Video Loading

Video Unavailable

Well before O’Neill arrived at Stoke the recruitment policy was all wrong. Expensive players, on long-term contracts, effectively placed millstones around future managers’ necks, unless they delivered.

And we all know they haven’t.

Contrast that with Brentford’s policy.

On Saturday the winning goal in their turnaround victory was scored by Ivan Toney, a £5m recruit from Peterborough, who had been scoring goals for fun at the level below Stoke (his record at the Posh was almost exactly a goal every other game) and, given his age in the transfer window of January 2019 at 22, was ripe for signing.

Instead Stoke, under new manager Nathan Jones, opted to spend £7.2m on Sam Vokes, a striker who rarely scored for Burnley at the level above Stoke (his record there was almost exactly a goal every four games), and whose age at that point was 29.

Vokes came on against Brentford as Stoke sought an equaliser and City looked about as threatening as a kitten romping about on a white fluffy pillow with white feathers gently billowing around.

Conversely, the mobile, quick-thinking, effervescent Toney seized the one half-chance which came his way with a clinical finish, which gave Angus Gunn no chance.



The bet365 Stadium will host pre-season dinner

Why should you sign up?

In our daily Stoke City bulletin, we’ll be bringing you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces, as well as the key talking points for fans.

How do you sign up?

It’s easy and only takes seconds.

Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article and hit sign up.

scfc.jpg

If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.

All you have to do is click here and punch your email. And what’s more, it’s absolutely free!

You can also get all the latest updates by following us on social media here Facebook and Twitter.

Click on the App Store here to download the app for iOS devices, and on the Google Play store here to download the app on Android.

Brentford’s recruitment team is rightly lauded for its use of data and statistics, but that one didn’t take much deep knowledge to get right.

Equally, legs in midfield became an issue around ten minutes into the second half as Stoke’s ageing ones tired, while Brentford’s upped their game.

But we’ve known that for ages.

Michael O’Neill has now been in the hotseat for long enough that he has to start to bear the weight of criticism for continued failings. Just not for creating the problems in the first place.

The fact that he hasn’t yet does, though, have a lot to do with the contracts of those expensive players the club is still trying to divest itself of.

Until that can happen, we are destined to be a middle, maybe upper-middle, Championship club, because even this, very good, manager can’t get us to compete consistently with more nimble, upwardly-mobile clubs like Barnsley and Brentford.

My how that last sentence hurts.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *