Michael O’Neill says the likes of striker Sam Vokes are far from forgotten men as he weighs up the possibility of a handful of changes ahead of Stoke’s relegation clash with Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Vokes played from the bench at Reading last weekend and has only started one of Stoke’s last eight fixtures.
And O’Neill insists there is no question about him remaining a fan of the burly Welshman.
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He says: “Players know, more often than not, that they are left out or don’t start because it’s tactical, or someone else is maybe in a better run of form.
“Sam gave us that option from the bench (v Reading) and has done that before.
“I’m sure, like any player, he wants to start more, but he’s handled that situation very, very well.
“We needed something different because Reading, particularly second half, sat in and we had to mix the game up a little bit.
“Sam gave us that option because he’s got that particular ingredient in his game and he remains a very important player for us.”
O’Neill has the option of playing both Vokes and Tyrese Campbell centrally, or shifting Campbell wide to leave Vokes inside, or he may see the Reading game as vindication for keeping the Welsh international’s greater aerial physicality up his sleeve among the subs.
Elsewhere, O’Neill will be looking long and hard at right back after plumping for central defender Nathan Collins there last Saturday by way of a short-term ploy.
Just how short-term depends on whether O’Neill recalls Tommy Smith after he came off the bench at Reading and, against admittedly tiring legs, gave Stoke a greater attacking threat in the latter stages of the 1-1 draw.
Smith had consistently got the nod before lockdown after winning his head-to-head with Tom Edwards to start 15 successive Championship fixtures since, ironically enough, returning for the game at Middlesbrough on December 20.
The Stoke boss will be forced into a change in central defence because of the Ryan Shawcross injury and Danny Batth is in pole position after replacing the club captain at Reading.
Elsewhere, O’Neill has a welcome problem in midfield after Lasse Sorensen justified his call-up by turning in a performance widely seen as meriting another shot against Middlesbrough.
The 20 year-old Dane, a Stoke player since he was 15, was playing only his third league game for the club – and his first since January last year – but provided the energy and maturity O’Neill wanted in the summer sunshine and against opposition legs not as finely tuned as his have apparently been in training.