Explained – The biggest dilemma Michael O’Neill faces this weekend



To tweak or not to tweak, that is the question.

Michael O’Neill has resisted almost all but forced changes since taking over from a manager in Nathan Jones who, well, didn’t, especially after a disappointing result.

There was a line in O’Neill’s pre-match press conference last week which summed up his approach, having just suffered one such scenario, a 4-2 loss at Queens Park Rangers.

He said: “Sometimes we have to believe in the players at moments like this as well…”

And he followed that up following the resultant 2-0 win over Cardiff by adding: “You’re not always going to get brilliant performances in the Championship. The demand on the players is so much. To get belief and confidence into the team you have to be consistent in your selection.

“That’s what we’ve tried to do.”

The added factor as Stoke now head to Luton, however, is that this will be the third game in eight days.

There was just the one change at Blackburn as Nathan Collins stepped in to replace James Chester, both for physical and tactical reasons.

Chester had not played a league game in a year before joining Stoke on deadline day last month and had then started four games in a fortnight. There was also the Sam Gallagher factor – and the fact that he’s 6ft 5in.

And Stoke, having let in 11 goals in four games, have now kept back-to-back clean sheets without ever really looking like conceding. It has been encouraging that Jack Butland has been in a dominating mood.

So which way will O’Neill lean at Kenilworth Road?

Luton will have a two-pronged attack to handle; the bustling, 11-goal James Collins and Harry Cornick, who has been coming to the fore under Graeme Jones.

Collins was diplomatic beyond his 18 years about any selection dilemma, saying: “It’s not up to me, it’s up to the manager. Hopefully I’ve put something in his head. I don’t really mind at this point – I will play if needed but it’s all about the results.

“Of course I want to play every game, want to help us get out of this and go further, to push us higher.

“But right now I am concentrating on the team and we have to complete the task upon us.”

Would O’Neill be tempted into switches anywhere else on the pitch?

It’s not likely in most areas, at least until James McClean returns from injury to provide an extra option on the left wing that can bring Nick Powell back inside.

But how about up front, where Tyrese Campbell has started five games in 18 days since returning from injury?

The 20-year-old was pretty isolated at Ewood Park, an appearance when he probably had his least influence since being promoted to first team starter. Lee Gregory was lively when he was thrown on, but couldn’t make more of the openings he had done well manufacture.

O’Neill said: “Ty was a little bit short on the night, looked a little bit tired and maybe didn’t give us the threat. He’s a young player and he’s obviously come back from an injury as well. We have to be mindful of that and we’re possibly not going to get him at full throttle every game.

“We didn’t get it at Blackburn I didn’t think but I thought Lee Gregory was good for us when he came on.”

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Campbell had still managed a couple of shots on target – and both were well worked.

The first came when Joe Allen had won back possession and played a one-two with a deft Nick Powell flick to tee up Sam Clucas to find Campbell, who didn’t need much space from the left corner of the penalty area to dig out a spinner towards the bottom right corner.

The second came via two one-twos with Clucas and a nutmeg of Darragh Lenihan. It wasn’t the fiercest effort with his right foot but Christian Walton had to get down well to his right to keep it out and concede a corner.

When he’s on the pitch he’s a threat and it seems like he’s due a goal – maybe even a flurry of goals. Stoke need him fresh and firing for as many of these 11 remaining games as possible.

To tweak or not to tweak?





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