Michael O’Neill, finally, should have plenty of options when he goes to pick his Stoke City starting XI against Nottingham Forest tonight (8pm).
There are still areas of the squad where there isn’t enough depth but that’s a lot of options and decisions to make in the main engine room.
O’Neill said: “We probably haven’t been able to rotate the team as much as we’d like because of the players who have been out.
“We probably have the opportunity to rotate players a little bit more now, which will keep us a little bit fresher, I think, as well.
“The stronger we can be the better coming through this period going into the second half of the season. We have a lot to play for and these players will help us.”
The biggest turnaround since 1895
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 (39 points, up from 20 in 1894).
A modern goalkeeper
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.”
MK Dons boss gives glowing report on Lasse Sorensen
Lasse Sorensen was picked out for praise by MK Dons manager Russell Martin as the Stoke City youngster catches the eye out on loan.
Martin told the MK Citizen: “I’m really pleased for Lasse, he was really good. I asked him to focus on his defensive duties which he did excellently. When you focus on one part of your game, the rest of it comes together. The energy he has is great and he showed some calmness and composure which was great for the team.”
Powell in Championship team of season so far – but Souttar’s the pick
We have been checking out the ratings from WhoScored, who use piles of data from Opta to objectively rate each individual performance, to see who has been the pick for each Championship team so far this season.
We’ve got the divisional team of the year so far and each team’s best player.