Ince, keeper debate and transfers needed – Five things we learned from Stoke City’s penultimate friendly



Stoke City suffered their first defeat of pre-season on Tuesday evening as League One side Wigan Athletic registered a 2-1 victory at the DW Stadium.

Goals from Callum Lang and Stephen Humphreys, either side of a rare Tom Ince goal, was enough to secure the Latics a Championship scalp.

We take a look at five things we learned from the clash as attentions begin to turn towards the final pre-season friendly against Wolves on Saturday.

Ince back in the equation

It has been a considerable period of time since Tom Ince last started a fixture for Stoke City.

In fact, it was back in December last year, during the 1-0 victory against Blackburn, that the winger was last named in Michael O’Neill’s XI.

However, despite looking certain to depart the bet365 Stadium this summer, having previously failed to feature at all in pre-season, the former Derby man was handed a rare start at the DW Stadium.

And in fairness to him, he took the opportunity given to him by the Stoke boss.

He capped off a decent opening 45 minutes with a well-executed strike to peg the home side level, and offered a threat during the second period too – before his withdrawal x minutes from time.

Still, whether or not it was enough to appease O’Neill is another question – but the scouts in attendance will have most definitely have taken note of the 29-year-old’s decent enough showing.

Captain’s armband in circulation

We are still no nearer to fully knowing which Stoke player will lead the side out for the opening day clash with Reading on Saturday week.

A number of players have donned the armband during pre-season with Nick Powell and Sam Clucas the latest two to do so on Tuesday.

Adam Davies had a stint earlier in pre-season, as did Danny Batth, whilst the return to fitness of James Chester, who started his first game of the summer in Greater Manchester, would likely have him in contention too.

But the smart money would still be on Wales international Joe Allen, one of Stoke’s longest-serving first-team players, being handed the honour by Michael O’Neill.

Greater depth still needed

O’Neill has made no secret of the fact that he is still keen on first-team recruitments.

No fewer than 14 players have departed the bet365 Stadium this summer, with several others anticipated to follow in the coming weeks.

Three have arrived in pre-season – Jack Bonham, Ben Wilmot and Mario Vrancic – and whilst they, the latter two in-particular, appear to be shrewd acquisitions, there is still work to be done.

The plethora of youngsters who featured in the clash all stood up to the challenge admirably.

But without being harsh on them at all, they don’t appear to be quite ready to make the desired impact at Championship level.

A loan move to a lower league club could well be the order of the day for the likes of Lewis Macari, Will Goodwin and Eddy Jones, but that will only likely happen providing O’Neill is able to bolster is squad between now and the end of the transfer window.

Bursik in pole position for the number one spot?

It appears to be a straight race between young Joe Bursik and the more experienced Adam Davies for the currently vacant number one spot.

Whilst Davies ended the 2020/21 campaign in the sticks for the Potters, it has been Bursik who has enjoyed more game time throughout pre-season.

The England youth international completed another 45 minutes at the DW Stadium, before the introduction of Jack Bonham at the break, producing a couple of outstanding saves.

That came on the back of his impressive performance against Aston Villa at the weekend; a game in which he was arguably the side’s stand-out performer.

Given his extended recent run in the team you would expect O’Neill to shake things up a little bit for the final warm-up game with Wolves on Saturday and welcome Davies back into the fold.

If he doesn’t, and again opts to go with Bursik, then you can almost take it as a guarantee that it will be the 21-year-old who starts the campaign as number one.

Errors need to be cut-out

Pre-season or not, Stoke will have to be more careful in possession of the ball if they are to be the force O’Neill wants them to be next season.

Whilst the side boasted a pretty impressive defensive record last season, there was still a tendency for an individual error to cost the side dearly.

The Stoke boss clearly wants his side to be comfortable on the ball, and it appears as though he would like them to build from the back.

On too many occasions on Tuesday needless risks were taken – one of which was punished as the home side grabbed a late winner after Morgan Fox’s poor pass was intercepted by Will Keane before being squared to Stephen Humphreys to tuck home.

One or two earlier mishaps weren’t punished, but against higher-level opposition, that most definitely won’t be the case.

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