Michael O’Neill is hoping Sam Clucas can provide some midfield magic in the remaining Championship matches to help to ease Stoke City ‘s injury woes.
Stoke have seen their options depleted in recent weeks with up to 10 players residing in the treatment room.
Some of them are season-ending injuries as well, with defender Nathan Collins, midfielders Joe Allen and Tashan Oakley-Boothe and striker Tyrese Campbell already ruled out.
Clucas offered some glimmer of respite from the injury woes, though, by making a 20-minute appearance from the substitutes’ bench in Monday’s 2-1 home defeat by Millwall.
He has been out since the end of February with calf and hernia issues, and underwent surgery to resolve the problem.
O’Neill was left frustrated by the manner of Monday’s loss, but pleased to see Clucas return to action.
“It was good to get Sam Clucas back out on the pitch again,” said the manager.
“It was probably asking a lot putting him in, but we just felt that we needed him.
“He’s missed a period of games and only had limited training, but coming straight back in, that’s the stage of the season we are at.
“Hopefully he can give us something between now and the end of the season, particularly with Joe and Tashan being ruled out.”
O’Neill admits that the squad on duty against Millwall is likely to be the pool of players he has to pick from in the remaining six matches.
Stoke head to Birmingham City on Saturday lying 11th in the table, but are realistically out of play-off contention, sitting 11 points adrift of a top-six spot.
“The squad we had today is pretty much the squad we will have to go through to the end of the season,” added O’Neill.
“There’s only Morgan Fox and possibly Alfie Doughty who could play before the end of the season, but certainly not for the next few games.”
Fox and Doughty both have hamstring issues and are being nursed back to health.
Fox last appeared in the 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday back in February, while Doughty has yet to feature for the club since signing from League One Charlton.
He suffered a hamstring injury while with the Addicks, but O’Neill was keen to bring him into the building to avoid potentially missing out on recruiting him in the summer.
Meanwhile, Nick Powell has been named as Stoke player of the month for March.
The award is voted for by fans and the 27-year-old attacker secured 42 per cent of the votes as he landed the accolade for the third successive month.
Powell produced some superb performances in March and started off the month by scoring against Swansea City.
He ended the month by setting up Jacob Brown for the winning goal against Derby County at the bet365 Stadium.