James McClean is back out of self isolation and back in training in a welcome boost for Stoke City ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Sheffield Wednesday.
The influential wide midfielder has missed the last two games after testing positive for Covid-19 while on international duty with Republic of Ireland.
He has since had the green light to return to Clayton Wood and give Michael O’Neill another option at Hillsborough.
Steven Fletcher is still being assessed after taking a hefty whack on his knee in a mid-week defeat to Norwich.
Can Stoke finally get one over Tony Pulis?
Tony Pulis’s record against Stoke is almost like Stoke’s old record against West Brom – one defeat since they first met in 1992.
But he’s not invincible, says one of his biggest fans in Ricardo Fuller.
“He’s a great manager,” he said, “probably the best manager I ever had in my career. He knew how to get me going.
“We know what Tony Pulis is about: organisation, being solid, strong set pieces, working hard and being effective. If we can match those things ourselves, we’re playing well. We can create and take chances and we can win.
“When you get a new manager going into a club it usually changes the pedigree and maybe it’s not the best time to be playing Sheffield Wednesday but we’ve got a good team. Maybe we should focus on ourselves more than the opposition.”
Fuller also gave the lowdown on O’Neill, who goes into his 50th match as Stoke boss.
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How Michael O’Neill ranks against ex-Stoke managers
Michael O’Neill goes into his 50th match as Stoke City manager with a record comparable with any of his predecessors – including the fella he’s taking on this weekend.
O’Neill could become only the third Stoke boss ever to win at least half of his opening half century of league and cup fixtures in charge – and the first to do it in the top two divisions.
He is the 20th manager to reach this landmark, although Lou Macari and Tony Pulis – who goes up against Stoke and O’Neill with Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday – have done it twice.
And only Macari, in his first spell (1.82); Gudjon Thordarson (1.94) and Alan Durban (1.7) have started with a better points per game average (O’Neill, 1.65), when all adjusted to three points for a win.
But perhaps the better comparison is with the 50 games immediately before he took charge.
Stoke have won 24, drawn nine, lost 16, scored 72 and let in 60 in the first 49 under O’Neill.
- Sheffield Wednesday are looking to register consecutive home league wins against Stoke for the first time since a run of four between 1953 and 1964.
- Stoke are hoping to win consecutive league matches against Sheffield Wednesday for the first time since September 1984 (3 in a row).
- Sheffield Wednesday haven’t scored more than one goal in any of their last 19 home league games (10 goals in total). They are looking to avoid becoming only the fifth team since the creation of the Football League in 1888 to go 20+ home league games without scoring more than once and first since Huddersfield in September 2019 (29 in a row).
- Stoke have won three of their six away league games this season (D1 L2) – it took the Potters 13 away Championship games to win three on the road last season.
- Sheffield Wednesday manager Tony Pulis has lost just one of his 16 matches vs Stoke in his managerial career (W8 D7), going unbeaten in each of the last 15 – with nine of those games coming since he last left the Potters in 2013.
Predicted Championship final standings
What is realistically within Stoke City’s grasp this season?
But the data analysts are different, objective beasts who can’t be swayed by someone in the Far East taking a big bet.
And infogol’s complicated and trusted algorithm currently has Stoke most likely to finish in the play-offs when the Championship music finally stops in May.
Bournemouth and Norwich are the most likely to finish in the top two, with Watford, Brentford and Swansea City tipped to make up the rest of the top six.