Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill faced the media today ahead of Tuesday’s Championship clash at QPR.
The injury to striker Tyrese Campbell was the main topic on the agenda.
The Potters boss also gave a more positive update on some of the club’s other injured players, his verdict on out-of-form QPR and the prospect of playing in front of fans for only the second time this season.
How is Tyrese?
“It’s difficult. He’s been pretty upbeat. Ty is a positive lad who’s always got a smile on his face.
“But he knows now the season is over which is disappointing for him and for us.
“The focus now has to be on getting him right again. He’s positive about that which is a big help.
“He’s got a lot of support within the club and the medical staff are looking at all possibilities.
“Myself, the coaching staff and his fellow players are giving him a lot of support.
“We’ve just got to support him through the process, when he goes for surgery and then his rehab.”
Will this injury be character building for him?
“From my own experience, all experiences in football are character building.
“At the time you don’t see it like that. Sometimes, when you’re wiser in years, you look back and realise what it was.
“Any player who goes down with a serious injury has to have a strong character to come back from that.
“It’s not how I would look at it for Ty at this moment in time. I look at it as a blow because when a young player – and a very exciting young player – is not able to play, your thoughts are how they feel at this moment in time.
“Ty’s a strong enough character and he’s got good people around him, including his dad (Kevin) who played at the highest level (with Arsenal and Everton).
“The most important thing is how we manage and support Ty at the club. We’ll do everything possible to ensure this process is as quick and as positive as possible.”
On the nature of the injury
“He’s got quite bad damage to his cartilage and there’s another procedure that will need to be done. That’s all we’re prepared to say at this moment in time.”
After losing Campbell’s pace, will you have to change the way you play?
“We would rather not have to do that. Ty, Fletcher, Jacob Brown and McClean have been our front four players. They give us a lot of mobility.
“With Ty going out of the team, it causes us a dilemma and we have to try and compensate for that as a squad.
“Players who haven’t played very much this season may get their opportunity, but they have to come in and take that opportunity.
“As we approach January we’ll have to look at what options may or may not be available to us.
“It’ll be very difficult to find a direct replacement for Ty without spending a lot of money which we’re not going to be in a position to do.
“The important thing between now and the window – with games every three days – is that we compensate for that loss as a squad.”
Michael O’Neill won’t let up in trying to coax out all Tyrese Campbell’s potential… but it’s clear he’s very pleased with how his star asset is coming along.
The manager said after the win at Reading: “He’s developed a lot and there’s a lot more to go still.
“Tye has got fantastic natural attributes in terms of his speed, his physicality and he’s a great finisher. Those are three boxes to tick.
“He needs to find a little bit more in certain areas and I’m constantly at him but it’s terrific to see him progress.
“We’ve found a way to get him into the team as a wide forward, not a winger, a wide attacking threat.
“I don’t think he’s ready to play as a lone striker but when he plays up with Fletch (Steven Fletcher), he seems to enjoy it as well.
“I’m delighted with the progress he’s made.”
Other injury news
“We’re optimistic that Danny Batth can come back into the squad. He trained yesterday and we’ll see how he is today.
“Jon Obi, we’ll assess him. He trained for part of the session yesterday. But it’s important not to bring players back too soon and risk re-injuring them.
“I suppose the big positive for us is that no-one has been added to our injury list from the game at the weekend.”
Tommy Smith and Sam Clucas
“Clucas is still a bit away. He’s not out on the grass yet. Tommy’s injury is groin related and we’ll have to see how he is today.
“He did a little bit yesterday but was a little bit sore. We’ll get an assessment of him this afternoon. I imagine tomorrow will come too soon for Tommy.”
On Steven Fletcher and Jordan Thompson’s return to action
“It was a big ask for both players given the amount of training they’ve had, given they’re coming back from quite traumatic injuries.
“Jord’s was a really bad ankle injury and Steven’s was a difficult injury where he had a bad infection in his knee.
“It was a big ask for both of those players to come in, as it was for Harry Souttar coming in after self-isolation. Neither player has had any adverse effects to playing in the game.”
On James McClean being available again after suspension
“He gives you great athleticism. We saw that last season with the number of assists and goals he gave us.
“He hasn’t quite hit those numbers this time but it’s good to have him back.
“The suspension was disappointing for him – an attacking player picking up five bookings – but we welcome him back and he gives us good a good option in terms of balance on the left-hand side.”
“There having a difficult run. They lost players in the summer who are difficult to replace.
“They’ve brought in Lyndon Dykes who’s had a decent start to the season.
“We expect a tough game again. If you look at the game on Saturday, Derby are in the bottom three but when you look at the players they have, sometimes a team’s league position is a little bit false.
“We felt we were better than where we were this time last year.
“I’m sure QPR will feel the same. There’s been very little in their games. They were narrowly beaten by Reading in the 89th minute.
“They’ll give us a game, there’s no doubt about that.”
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On the season so far
“We’re close to having played everyone now. We’ve not been beaten heavily by any team. In the ones we’ve lost we’ve always been in the game. We’ve been a bit aggrieved with the losses we’ve had.
“We’re in a lot stronger position than we have been previously. The injuries are stretching our squad and we have to continue to try and pick up points and get players back so we can be strong going into the second half of the season.
“I think people underestimate what it’s like asking players to play every three days and playing in front of empty stadiums is difficult as well. It’s as much of a mental challenge for the players.
“The game has a different feel with fans. We’ve had one game back with supporters (against Wycombe) and it did feel different.
“The players have to make sure they’re right and ready to play and it helps if you’ve got a purpose. Our purpose is different to what it was last season. We have to positive about that.”
On the 5.30 kick-off
“It’s good for us. The midweek away games are the most difficult. It means the players are in the hotel for less time and they’ll get more recovery time at home as we’ll be back sooner, which is a bonus. It makes the logistics of the trip a lot easier.”
On playing in front of fans
“In the Wycombe game there was a bit of an edge to it. There were 1,000 fans and they were trying to influence the referee and it’ll be no different tomorrow night.
“After playing without fans for such a long period, it’s nice to get that feeling back of having people in the stadium.”