Stoke City go into their final game of a remarkable 2020 knowing this year has seen one of the biggest turnarounds in the club’s long history.
Stoke have picked up 69 points from 42 league games since January 1 and are firmly in the Championship promotion picture, compared to 40 from 46 in 2019, when they were certainly in danger of dropping into League One.
That kind of bounce trumps everything in the past 125 years going back to 1895.
On top of that, the class of 2020 is one clean sheet away from equalling a club record for a calendar year both in the league (20, trailing 2004 by one) and league and cup (24, trailing 1994 by one).
They have won 45 per cent of their games – the highest since 2001 (49 per cent) in a lower division – compared to just 20 per cent in 2019, which was the lowest since 1985 (19 per cent).
If they are the raw headlines, the underlying narratives are encouraging too.
Michael O’Neill has found a winning touch while filling his side with youth, as well as bringing in influential experience with James Chester, John Obi Mikel and Steven Fletcher, all without a transfer fee.
Nathan Collins, aged 19, and Harry Souttar, aged 22, are now regulars in defence and, behind them, 20-year-old Joe Bursik is grabbing his unexpected chance in goal with both hands.
It took terrible luck with injuries for Bursik to be called back from a loan at Doncaster Rovers but the England under-21s keeper has now kept seven clean sheets in his first 10 appearances in the Championship.
Adam Davies (knee) is hoping to be back at some point in January and Angus Gunn (ankle) shouldn’t be too far behind but Bursik is looking the real deal – a modern goalkeeper, says O’Neill, who is growing with every outing.
The manager said: “Joe’s very sharp, very sharp around his box. He has everything you’d look for in a modern goalkeeper.
“He’s good with the ball at his feet.
“I thought against Coventry he came and took crosses too.
“He’s a confident boy and I think his confidence has grown with every game and it’s good to see a young goalkeeper produce the level of performance that he’s had.”
At the other end, Stoke have been cursing the long-term loss of Tyrese Campbell, who turns 21 today.
But Fletcher is back from injury now and Jacob Brown caught the eye as his strike partner in the 0-0 draw with Coventry at the weekend, creating chances for himself and teammates.
Those two are expected to lead from the front again on Tuesday against Nottingham Forest (8pm).
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“I thought Jacob was really good at the weekend,” said O’Neill.
“He looked very free in terms of his position. His assets are his energy and his running power and he certainly utilised that against Coventry. Him and Fletch combined well.
“We’ve asked a lot of Jacob at times. We’ve had to play him off the right a little bit, in one game we played him as a right wing-back too in the cup, but he’s a great boy. We knew what we were getting bringing him to the club and he’s going to continue to improve.”