Four-point checklist as Stoke City hunt bargain new striker


Stoke City face a clear challenge in the summer transfer window as they try to find a golden touch to lift them into promotion contenders without any real transfer budget.

But firstly, a cash pot does not guarantee success, even in the Championship, as proven by Gary Rowett’s near £50m splurge in the summer of 2018. Benik Afobe (£12.5m) and Tom Ince (£10m) will be looking for new homes themselves before the start of next season.

Secondly, Michael O’Neill knew all this when he took the job.

He has reshaped the recruitment department and has promised to leave no stone unturned, no plausible market unexplored in search of gems.

There are four different avenues of particular note: loaning future stars from the Premier League, free agents from the Premier League or Championship, hidden gems in the lower league or untapped talent in Ireland or Scotland.

Top of the agenda will be to find new fire power that can either add to the threat of Steven Fletcher or Tyrese Campbell or make sure the void is not so huge when one or both of those strikers are out.

There are hopes that Jacob Brown can continue his development too while Alfie Doughty should be ready to fire – but it is no secret that head of recruitment Alex Aldridge is trying to unearth someone else for next to nothing who can help turn 0-0 draws into 1-0 wins.

O’Neill managed to find that kind of bargain once before.

He explained in the recent meet the board evening: “It’s challenging but I knew the situation when I came to the club. I came from international football where I didn’t spend any money at all. I was used to that.

“Prior to coming to Stoke, the most I’d spent on a player was £20,000 for Shamrock Rovers, a lad called Gary Twigg who scored 60 goals for me.”

Joint-chairman John Coates chipped in: “That sounds very good!”


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Twigg has retired now – “Unfortunately,” smiled O’Neill – but there is something to be learned from looking at what type of forward worked so well at the tip of the manager’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.

There are a few buzzwords to describe him that will be in Aldridge’s filters as he searches for that big piece of the jigsaw.

Hunger: Twigg was 25 when he joined Shamrock. Having been on the fringes at Derby County, it had been a long road to Brechin City, where he was tempted by O’Neill having been on the cusp of quitting football to support his family, and then onto Ireland.

By the time he had scored his 50th goal for the club about two years later it was clear that he had a drive to succeed, for himself and his manager.

“I’d had a lot of problems with injuries and just fell out of love with football,” the told the Irish Examiner back then. “The gaffer is a miracle worker and has managed to get me back playing at a level where hopefully people enjoy coming to watch me. I owe everything to him, to be honest.

“I was tempted to walk away from football before the manager took me to Brechin. I had thought about quitting and the gaffer kind of told me ‘just come and play and enjoy football again’. I did that at Brechin and then he brought me here – and I’ve not stopped enjoying it since.”



Gary Twigg scored more than 60 goals for Shamrock Rovers under Michael O’Neill.

That kind of desire and hunger is something that O’Neill has referenced a couple of times and you can see why he would want a repeat.

“Gary’s in that form at the minute, every time he gets the ball you expect him to score. He’s found the club that he feels really at home at,” said the manager back in 2009.

“You’re looking at a player who is delighted to be here and who had bounced around a few clubs and had a few injuries. He’s told me he’s loving his football and what’s happening out there. You see it in him.”

Aggression: Not particularly in a way that Mick Kennedy was aggressive but in a way that one centre-forward can give centre-backs a headache, a way that can get the side playing on the front foot as Fletcher and James McClean are able to do when they’re on form.

It’s about being energetic, ruthless and direct to create and seize an opening and get shots away before the chance has gone. Timidity is not an option.

It is something that clicked in Peter Thorne mid-way through his Stoke career, an extra bit between his teeth that took him from an 11-goal striker in 1999 to a 30-goal man in 2000.

Mobility: Sam Vokes is a decent finisher if there is service into the six-yard box, and he worked well at this level in a front two for Burnley. But he doesn’t have the athleticism to be a force of nature around the penalty area in a 4-3-3. Five starts, when he has been fit all season, tells its own story.

Stoke need a striker with clever movement who can get behind a defence. Lightning pace would help but it’s no good running quickly to the wrong place.

Fletcher is clearly fit and strong but, at 34, there have been a couple of occasions when you can see he was wishing he had that extra yard of pace as he spots space that Nick Powell can pick out.

It is a box ticked by someone like Stephen Humphrys, the 23-year-old Rochdale striker who has been linked with Stoke and five other Championship clubs this week.

Mike Pejic said in his latest column: “In a 4-3-3 you need a player in the middle who can break the back line and offer an outlet whenever you get on the ball. If you have that player who has clever movement and good running, you always have an outlet.”



Stephen Humphrys in action for Rochdale
Stephen Humphrys in action for Rochdale

Ruthlessness: If you have a striker who is mobile and strong, aggressive and clever, you hope that he can make the most of it.

In the end, that was Mark Hughes’s problem with Mame Diouf … even if he made his problem worse as he tried to replace Diouf, who is actually the fourth top scorer in Turkey this season after leaving Stoke as a free agent last summer.

There are poachers with a clinical touch but it is another thing finding someone who can create and finish their own chances, as well as ones that are made for them.

It will be a hard job to find a player who meets all the criteria but, as Twigg showed, it is worth looking everywhere.





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