No we didn’t – Michael O’Neill reacts to suggestion after Stoke City draw at Luton Town


Michael O’Neill leapt to the defence of his players after their failure to hold on for victory in their increasingly precarious battle for survival at the foot of the Championship.

Stoke were close to pocketing all three points at Luton when they conceded a 90th minute penalty to leave themselves in danger of falling back into the bottom three if Middlesbrough beat Nottingham Forest tonight.

O’Neill admitted the final scoreline was painful to take, but insisted his players couldn’t have done much more, particularly at the end of a physically-draining three-game week.

Asked if they had thrown victory away at Kenilworth Road, he retorted: “That’s a bit harsh on the players. I thought first half we played really well and created more chances than the one goal we scored.

“Second half we expected them to come out and put pressure on us, which they did, and I thought we defended well.

“To lose the two points is disappointing, but I think it would be wrong of me to say we threw it away.

“Second half we were leggy, defended deep and didn’t keep the ball so well, but the players put so much into the games against Cardiff and then Blackburn.

“When you have to play midweek in the Championship it’s very difficult. It’s a difficult scenario with travelling, recovery and we’ve been able to do very little between playing Wednesday and playing Saturday.

“Luton came into this game on the back of a good victory against Brentford and an extra day’s recovery, so I expected them to be more of a threat in the second half than they were in the first, but over the piece we deserved more than the one point we got.”

Victory escaped Stoke when James Chester caught Callum McCallum to concede a penalty converted by James Collins for Luton.

On the attack… Sam Vokes at Kenilworth Road

“If there’s contact it’s minimal,” O’Neill winced, “but these are things we can’t change, and we had chances to add to the one goal we scored.

“A third clean sheet in a week would have been nice, but we can’t dwell on it and we have to be ready to go in the next game.

“Probably the most disappointing thing in the second half is that we didn’t carry that threat that we had in the first half.

“I think a little bit of that is down to the efforts we put in on Wednesday night and Luton had an extra day for recovering having played on the Tuesday.

“We tried to change it and get as much freshness into the team, but we were defending and defending deep, so the substitutions we made were of a defensive rather than attacking nature.”

O’Neill made three changes before kick off after bringing in Chester, Jordan Cousins and goalscorer Sam Vokes for Nathan Collins, Jordan Thompson and Tyrese Campbell respectively.

Explaining the changes, he said: “It’s pretty evident, because it’s a lot to ask Tyrese to play three games in a week at his age, I don’t think he’s physically ready to do that.

“Certainly second half against Blackburn he didn’t give us a lot, he looked very tired.

“I thought Sam would give us a physical presence, which he did, and I thought he played very, very well.

“James comes in and gives us experience. James, having not played for so long, it was difficult for him to come in and play a three-game week.

“And I thought Jordan Cousins would give us that freshness and physicality in the middle of the field.”





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