Congratulations to Scott Hogan, who this morning has been crowned Championship player of the month for February.
He scored six goals in seven games last month on loan for Birmingham and has gone on to get another in March. Basically, he’s the division’s most in-form striker and he’s playing a key part as Birmingham book their place in mid-table.
It was easy to predict that Hogan would be a success at Birmingham, even if no one might have foreseen to what extent. He is a poacher who would thrive in a big man little man partnership, like the one he is enjoying with Lukas Jutkiewicz.
But O’Neill would have needed to rip up his Plan A to go two up front if he wanted to fit Hogan into his starting XI.
And he could justifiably point to the fact that Stoke have not been struggling for goals under his watch. They have scored 35 times in his 22 league games in charge, compared to the 21 in Stoke’s previous 22 games.
Stoke scored have scored five twice, four once and three on three occasions – having not scored more than two in their previous 88 games.
Tyrese Campbell has been promoted to first choice centre-forward and the 20-year-old’s pace and aggression and finishing instinct has made defenders panic and filled manager, teammates and supporters with excitement about the years ahead.
So fair enough.
But what about Jones, who was so adamant for so long that two up front ahead of his diamond midfield was the way to go?
He gave Hogan an hour at Charlton and started him next to Lee Gregory in a 2-2 draw with Derby where there were real glimpses of things clicking. Jones was publicly and theatrically furious at full-time that Stoke hadn’t won, rather than enthused by the performance.
It was the wrong message.
When mistakes allowed Preston race into a two-goal half-time lead in the next game, he had all-but forced himself into a dead end. Hogan was withdrawn after just 58 minutes and didn’t start another league game until late October – Jones’s swansong at Millwall.
In the meantime, he had needed to demand a place in the squad for an away trip to Swansea – with the promise that he would score, which unbelievably he kept in remarkable circumstances.
If all is well that ends, hopefully, well for Stoke and Hogan, it must be a decision that Jones is still rueing.