How should Michael O’Neill line up against Sheffield Wednesday and can Stoke City finally get one over Tony Pulis?
On our fans’ panel to discuss that this week are IAN CORBISHLEY, from Biddulph; MARC ESPLEY, from Fenton; MATT DALGARNO, from Basford; and SIMON MARSON, from Stone.
What’s your starting XI?
Ian Corbishley: Bursik, Souttar, Collins, Fox, Smith, Mikel, Powell, Clucas, Brown, Fletcher and Campbell.
This assumes we can’t sign another loan keeper in time. Bursik may struggle against what will be a physical Wednesday side and he is going to need better protection than he has had in his first two games. Six goals conceded in those two games is not an ideal start for a young keeper but the blame for at least some has this has to be directed at the midfield and defence.
If an experienced loan keeper can be found then he should start and we must have faith in Michael O’Neill that he won’t allow Bursik to lose confidence.
Marc Espley: Bursik, Souttar, Collins, Batth, Smith, Fox, Mikel, Clucas, Campbell, Fletcher, McClean. If McClean is not available then Jacob Brown plays, if Fletcher is out then we only have Vokes.
Matt Dalgarno: I’d go 4-2-3-1. I thought Collins did well when replacing Smith and his aerial ability will help against the way we know Pulis will set Wednesday up to play. Hopefully Fletcher is fit, if not I’d start Ince and play Campbell up top.
Bursik, Collins, Batth, Souttar, Fox, Mikel, Clucas, Brown, Powell, Campbell, Fletcher.
Simon Marson: My starting 11 would be Bursik, Smith, Batth, Souttar, Fox, Mikel, Clucas, Powell, Campbell, Fletcher, Brown.
I would stick with the same back four, I know we have conceded goals of late but I’m a big believer in keeping continuity at the back. Bursik hopefully will grow with confidence and, let’s be honest, we haven’t got much choice.
Mikel and Clucas are the obvious pairing in midfield especially with Joe Allen still injured. Powell again has to play, he can be frustrating but he is our star man and will make things happen.
Fletcher if fit is our first choice. If he is missing I would play Vokes as a focal point. Brown and Campbell either side to offer pace on the break which will be vital.
What’s your prediction?
Ian Corbishley: Sheffield Wednesday will come with the usual Tony Pulis mentality of making themselves very hard to beat and with the hope of grabbing a goal from a set piece. They have not been a team that have scored a lot of goals all season and so I’m going to go for a 1-0 win to Stoke, with the proviso that Stoke must defend much better than they have been doing.
Marc Espley: I’d have had great optimism going into this game prior to Tony Pulis taking the reins. Our record against previous managers is woeful and can’t see it getting any better on Saturday.
Pulis has a massive hoodoo over us and has already in his short time at Sheffield Wednesday shaped them into a battle-hardened side who are well drilled and a threat at set pieces. Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Stoke.
Matt Dalgarno: Ignoring the elephant in the room and looking at this objectively I’d say we have goals in this Stoke team and we’re more than capable of winning the game. A lot hinges on us being better defensively, I’d that happens then we know we can score goals and win any game.
Now to acknowledge the cap wearing elephant… We haven’t beaten a Pulis team since he left us and it’s like he holds a hoodoo over Stoke. Add in to the mix this is Wednesday’s first home game under TP, he’s looking for his first victory and then add in our recent shoddy defensive displays, unfortunately I can really only see this ending one way. Wednesday 2-1 Stoke.
Simon Marson: 1-1. It will be tough against a TP side as we all know. Any point away from home in this league is a decent point. Powell to get an equaliser after an early conceded goal.
Any other business
Ian Corbishley: That theme of needing to defend better I’m sure will be in Michael O’Neill’s head. Over the past year he has improved the team immeasurably in confidence and attitude and it is a bit of a surprise that we’ve started to concede so many goals. I’m sure he will put this right, even if it means looking at bringing in an experienced defender in the transfer window.
Collins and Souttar have the makings of an excellent pairing at centre back but they need experience around them in the rough and tumble of the Championship. After losing Martins Indi and with doubts about the quality of Chester and Baath, that player may be vital in the second half of the season.
Marc Espley: EFL clubs have had advanced talks about introducing a wage cap in the Championship and £18m is far less than Stoke’s current wage bill.
Stoke are expected to vote to bring this cap in, only if the current profit and sustainability rules are changed or scrapped as its unfeasible for clubs relegated from the Premier League to meet this new wage cap if they cannot offload players without breaking current financial fair play rules. Just cancelling the contracts of Bauer and Wimmer would be an impossible loss in the accounts.
Scrapping FFP rules as they stand could allow clubs at least a loophole to get wages down.
Matt Dalgarno: Defensively we’re so poor at the moment and it’s starting to feel like we need to score three to get a result. That obviously isn’t sustainable for very long and we need to tighten up quickly.
I’m not sure what the answer is but one change could be the reintroduction of James Chester. He has his critics among Stoke fans and I admit myself to being one of them at times but the fact is we’ve been shipping goals since he hasn’t been in the team and perhaps it’s a case of needing an actual leader back there to organise us.
Batth isn’t that leader for me and until Shawcross is ready I think we need to bring Chester back into the side sooner than later.
Having said that, the game against Sheffield Wednesday might not be the game for him. Our defence will likely be required to win a lot of headers and second balls meaning Batth, Souttar and Collins might be better suited for this one. Either way, if we have any top six ambitions this season, we need to find a defensive set up that works and quickly.
Simon Marson: I’m concerned about the news that ‘some’ fans will be allowed in grounds depending on what tier the area is within. How is this fair? Some teams will have a huge advantage if they have fans in the grounds.
It’s all or nothing surely?
Added to this how are Stoke going to prioritise 4,000 fans? It’s a near impossible task.
Lastly, it’s always nice to come up against TP. The bloke is a legend at our club and I for one will always be forever grateful.