‘I don’t like unnecessary change’ – How Michael O’Neill is trying to steer Stoke City through the chaos



Michael O’Neill is sounding like the calm in a storm, the voice of reason and logic in a division that is capable of testing both on a twice-weekly basis.

He is keen to stress the importance of consistency, whether it be in selection, approach, outlook or pretty much anything else. Keep doing the right things, he is sure, and over enough time, more often than not, you will get your rewards.

Don’t get too triumphant when you win and don’t get too demoralised when you lose. In the Championship there is, the manager has pointed out a few times, normally a game a couple of days later to try to put things right… or the opposite.

And the ability to surprise an opponent with a left-field tactic is probably outweighed by your own players knowing what they are doing – and knowing that you know what you’re doing.

So how many changes should anyone expect as he takes Stoke City to Luton Town tomorrow afternoon? Not many.

“We’ll see how the players are (at the end of a three-game week),” he said.

“I don’t like to change the team unnecessarily. We would be going to more inexperienced players at times if we did that. It’s different if you’re going to more experienced players. We have to be mindful that we don’t make the team too young and too inexperienced at times for the situation we are in.

“We’ll try to get consistency with selection as much as possible.”

Yet for all that, the mid-week draw at Blackburn was a bit of an oddity for Stoke.

Having drawn a whopping club record 22 games out of 46 last season – including an incredible 11 out of the last 15 – this was the first away draw since O’Neill arrived in November and only second of the whole term. They’ve only drawn three at home too.

In fact, Stoke’s previous six games had all been settled by two goals or more – three wins, three defeats.

But now they head to Luton hoping for a third clean sheet in a row – and back-to-back shut outs for the first time this campaign.

O’Neill said: “I think as a team we have defended well in the last two games. That’s down to hard work, down to distances and what we do on and off the pitch in terms of preparation of the team and players being receptive to that.

“Sometimes maybe away from home we’ve tried to win every game and that can be a little bit to your downfall. You end up losing games you can take something from.

“Blackburn was the first draw we’ve had away from home since I came in and that showed that the work we had done was justified.”

He added: “We lost 4-2 at QPR trying to win the game, that’s the nature of it. Derby was harsh on us.

“We can reflect on all those but at the end of the day we lost two games away from home. The thing we will focus on is the points we will take as well.

“You have to move on very quickly in the Championship and we have the chance now of putting seven points into a week with two away games, which would be very positive for us. That’s what we’ll aim to do.”

Yes, if Tony Mowbray was hinting that Stoke had gone to Ewood Park with a priority on not losing, it is a potentially massive win that Stoke have their eyes on today.

Luton have won three of their last four games, including Tuesday night’s hard-fought victory over Brentford, who had 69 per cent of possession but could only squeeze one goal from nearly 500 passes and 19 shots.

Graeme Jones’s team – set on course for promotion to the Championship by Nathan Jones – have actually generally struggled when they’ve had more of the ball at Kenilworth Road.

They’ve lost their last two at home when they’ve had more than 50 per cent possession and won their last three when they’ve had less.

“We have to go there with the intention of trying to win the game,” said O’Neill. “It’s not easy away from home but we have enough quality to go there and win the game.

“We saw Brentford, who are challenging for automatic promotion, not managing that on Tuesday so it shows you the difficulty in the game.

“There are so many inconsistencies in the games and it’s so hard to read what may or may not happen but we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”





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