How should Michael O’Neill line up for a six-pointer against Hull this afternoon?
How good a job has he done at Stoke City already? Is his best achievement to coax match-changing form for Nick Powell? Perhaps one or a couple of the under-18s can catch the eye when they head to Manchester City for a cup final on Tuesday?
On our fans’ panel to discuss all that and more this week are ROB DOOLAN, from Birmingham; MATT KIRBY, from Leeds; and JAMIE LEESE, from Rough Close.
What’s your starting XI?
Rob Doolan: Butland, Smith, Batth, Collins, Martins Indi, Allen, Clucas, Ince, Powell, Campbell, Vokes (4-2-3-1)
Ideally, Tom Ince really needs to be dropped and Campbell would be playing up front rather than on the left, but with so few options, and Nick Powell so much more effective centrally, it’s a case of needs must.
Matt Kirby: I understand the decision to rotate in the games at Blackburn and Luton, but I wouldn’t be one for taking a player out of the team after performing well, so Nathan Collins comes back in.
And that wouldn’t be my only change from the draw at Kenilworth Road. I’d go Butland; Smith, Batth, Collins, Martins Indi; Allen, Clucas; Campbell, Powell, Thompson; Vokes
Jamie Leese: Federici, Smith, Batth, Collins, Edwards, Allen, Clucas, Diouf, Powell, Ince, Campbell.
Butland is a liability and was lucky not to have cost us in the last two games. He cannot be trusted.
Indi has looked really poor at left back so I think it’s worth giving Edwards a go there.
We have to play the 4-2-3-1 in a game we have to win. Powell has to play centrally. I have no idea why Diouf hasn’t been used more. He’s done well in his cameos.
What’s your prediction?
Rob Doolan: Stoke 2-0 Hull (Clucas, Powell)
Matt Kirby: Hull losing Jarred Bowen and Kamil Grosicki has seen them drop like a stone. They haven’t won in the league since New Year’s Day, so you know what that means!
We have a pretty decent record against the Tigers. We’ve won our last five home games against them and have only conceded once in those matches.
I’ll go 2-0 Stoke – Clucas and Campbell.
Jamie Leese: I think we’ll win 2-1. I hope we do anyway. It’s an absolute must win.
Any other business
Rob Doolan: The best move Michael O’Neill has made since his arrival is finding a place for the talents of Nick Powell.
Virtually every positive creative move has flowed through him in some way ever since, and he sees passes nobody else in the squad is capable of.
His two goals and four assists don’t tell the full story – he’s made a number of key passes and pre-assists that have played a major role in other goals too, like his brilliant ball for Tom Ince in the build-up to the winner at West Brom, or his clever pass that helped tee up the assist for Joe Allen’s decisive goal against Cardiff. He needs wrapping in cotton wool as we approach the run-in – that Stoke are in with a fighting chance of survival owes much to him.
Make your prediction: Stoke City v Hull
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Matt Kirby: After the disappointing manner of the draw last weekend, this run of games until Easter gives us the chance to put some daylight between some of those sides around us. Our home form has been pretty solid under O’Neill, so that’s where we’ll pick up the bulk of our points, but the away games at Reading and Wigan could be defining.
Given what’s going on with the first-team, it’s good to see the academy sides doing well. It’ll be good to see the under 18s in their cup final in Manchester on Tuesday.
Jamie Leese: Michael O’Neill has done a brilliant job so far and I don’t think that can be forgotten whatever happens. It will be a miracle if we stay up after the start we had.
This run of games coming up is absolutely massive and we cannot afford to be negative like at Luton. Paul Lambert tried that and it failed miserably, we have to play positive and win games.