There was a hint of a Nathan Jones-style chest thump from Nick Powell after he scored Stoke City’s decisive second goal in a win at Luton.
Jones was the manager who signed Powell but barely played him last season before he was sacked almost exactly a year ago, ultimately returning to Luton, who he helped stay in the Championship.
Powell stayed put to emerge as a key figure under Jones’s successor Michael O’Neill and was back in a forward role at Kenilworth Road – left of a three-man attack rather than in a central midfield three.
He was instrumental in a period at the start of the second half when Stoke seized control and, after Steven Fletcher had broken the deadlock, he pounced to score after a scramble.
O’Neill was impressed.
He said: “We played 3-4-3 so he was playing off the left and he’s played there for us previously in a 4-3-3 so he’s capable of doing that.
“It’s good because he has to be a little bit more disciplined in that position, which is what we need from him. When he is disciplined and plays in that way, he’s an extremely good player as you see.
“Not only his ability on the ball, he wins headers, he’s a goal threat and he linked well with Steven Fletcher. It was a good performance from Nick.”
Powell was eventually forced off with about 20 minutes to go after fielding a couple of heavy tackles from the hosts.
O’Neill said: “Yes, he took a few heavy knocks. Look, it was a physical game. Challenges were there.
“Luton have had a very good start to the season and showed why. We had to stand up to that and when we got the chance it was important we took it.”
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Stoke continue their fine away form. That’s four away wins in a row in league and cup without conceding a goal.
The manager was pleased but not getting carried away.
O’Neill said: “If we score twice every week and keep a clean sheet every week then we’re going in the right direction. It’s not going to happen like that!
“But today we were pleased. I thought first-half there wasn’t a lot in the game. I think we got a wee bit of a nearly performance I said to the players at half-time, but I think we addressed that in the second half, particularly the first 20 minutes of the second half. I thought we were excellent.
“Obviously we had to defend later in the game which is natural when you’re away from home and have a two-goal lead but overall it was a good day for us and a lot of things to be positive about.”