A little gap has opened up between the very top and Stoke City after a narrow home defeat to Bournemouth to start the New Year.
Injuries have kept kicking at Stoke over the past few weeks and losing Steven Fletcher in the first half last night didn’t help their chances against a Bournemouth side with whom they were hoping to draw level on points.
Instead, a breakaway goal from Junior Stanislas in the 79th minute means Bournemouth are now third and six points clear of the Potters.
Michael O’Neill gave his thoughts on the result, performance, injuries and transfer window.
Another night where effort didn’t get reward?
Michael O’Neill: I thought the result was harsh on us to be honest. We had opportunities in the first half. We played a good team here, obviously, but I thought we were more than a match for them.
One moment turns the game. We lose the ball in a good area and get punished for it at the other end.
What’s the news on Steven Fletcher?
I think it’s his groin. It’s too early to say the extent of the damage. It’s a big blow. We had to shuffle the pack a little bit and obviously it’s another striker who’s going to be out.
Steven has already been out this season with a knee injury. Lee Gregory is out, Tyrese Campbell is out. We just have to find a solution at the top end of the pitch.
I thought we created some half decent chances in the first half but again we didn’t capitalise on any of those.
What does being able to go toe-to-toe with Bournemouth tell you about the future?
It tells us we’re going in the right direction. If you look at our team tonight, we’ve young players. For some, it’s their first season in the Championship as well. A young goalkeeper.
There were a lot of positives. We’re getting Joe Allen back and I think again you saw his quality. It’s amazing that he can last 90 minutes and that he’s back. John Obi’s back as well.
As I’ve said to the players in there, we’ve played 23 games and every team in the division and we’ve not been outplayed, including against the top teams who are expected to challenge for promotion.
The games we’ve lost have all been very narrow and it gives us a lot of things to have belief in the second half of the season.
Do you have to be active in January?
Look, ideally we will add some players in January if possible. It’s not easy and we’re probably going to have to see players leave as well. It’s a difficult market because unless you’re going into the loan market you’re going to be taking players who haven’t been playing in the first half of the season.
We won’t have a lot of money to spend. It’s not the right time for us to do that.
If we can add that little bit of quality at the top end of the pitch, hopefully we’ll be able to do that.
Why should you sign up?
In our daily Stoke City bulletin, we’ll be bringing you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces, as well as the key talking points for fans.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article and hit sign up.
If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.
All you have to do is click here and punch your email. And what’s more, it’s absolutely free!
A welcome break after a hectic schedule?
Yes it is. We went to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup as well so that made it difficult for us. We had very few free mid-weeks between the season starting and this point.
It’s a welcome break. We’ll give the players a few days off before a good game here against Leicester when we have nothing to lose – and then we’ll tackle the second half of the season.