Stoke City poised to make two big decisions ahead of Championship return


Stoke City are pondering two major decisions as they step up preparations ahead of their Championship comeback at Reading next weekend.

The club is mulling over whether to arrange one or two behind-closed doors friendlies next week after last Tuesday’s game at Manchester United was aborted when manager Michael O’Neill tested positive for coronavirus.

And the management team must decide whether to deploy one or two team buses to ferry their players to Reading ahead of that first game back.

A 55-seater coach can only accommodate 14 players, because of social distancing, and Stoke anticipate taking 20 players, as well as staff, because of the extra substitutes being allowed.

Chris Brunt is the latest high-profile name to be linked with Stoke City this summer.

The connections are obvious after serving City boss Michael O’Neill so royally with Northern Ireland.

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And it is barely four months since O’Neill tried to prise him out of West Bromwich Albion at the end of the January transfer window.

O’Neill clearly remains a big fan and Brunt would be free as he is running out of contract at West Brom.

But at 35, there will be those raising an eyebrow at his signing, even on a relatively short-term deal.

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First-team coach Rory Delap admits it will be a novel experience heading to Stoke’s first game back because of the rigorous health regulations and the changes to the playing conditions.

“The logistics do seem a bit tough to get your head around and sometimes you think it will be a lot easier once the game itself actually kicks off.

“We will be getting procedures in place with some practice runs to make sure we get it right.

“We’ve got to travel with a skeleton staff, but with more players, 20 in all because of having nine on the bench.

“There’s only certain times you can make the subs, so we have got to make sure we are on our mettle to get little changes in the rules right.

“We have all played behind closed doors for one reason or another in the past, but yes it will still seem strange to be playing in front of empty stands and no noise.

“Although we’ll no doubt hear Ryan Shawcross screaming away, which is a good thing, whether he’s playing, on the bench, in the stands or not even at the ground.

“When it comes to the home games, we’ll obviously miss that noisy support our fans give us at the bet365, but we can’t moan about it, we just have to get on with it.

“These are strange times and there’s far worse things happening to people.”





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