Stoke City’s January transfer priority and the three players who could scupper it


The checklist was almost visible as Michael O’Neill went into his first summer transfer window as Stoke City manager.

Left-back, holding midfielder, quick wide man and powerful, mobile striker were all positions that supporters had been shouting for over the preceding couple of years.

So, with 51 days to go until the next window opens up, what will emerge at the top of his agenda now?

It is clear from recent history that Stoke won’t be expecting to do a great deal of business in the winter, when the right deals are harder to strike. Money is still tight under the shadow of Financial Fair Play.

But there will be room to manoeuvre in one or two areas, particularly if Stoke are in need of just an extra little push towards the upper reaches of the Championship.

So what might be on the agenda?

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The hole in the squad

Looking at the senior squad, Tommy Smith is currently unopposed at right-back.

There are options to use Jacob Brown as an attacking wing-back while Nathan Collins has been squeezed onto the right in a flat back four. But like for like?

Well, that question takes us 90 miles north west and whether Tom Edwards can be rejuvenated as a long-term answer during his season-long loan at Fleetwood Town.

Edwards needed a fresh start and regular football to prove his future one way or the other. It is taking one step back with the potential to take two forward, or three in the case of Harry Souttar.

His crosses have quickly proven a big asset and he’s kept clean sheets in three of his five starts but there was also a dodgy back pass at Charlton. An encouraging start and it’s cheering to see Edwards back playing with a smile on his face.

The 21-year-old has to deliver the goods week in, week out over a sustained period in League One if he is going to force his way into the thinking of where Stoke will be next summer. It makes sense to keep a close eye on his progress before diving into any business.

Smith, aged 28, has been doing ok, with a goal and assist to his name so far, as well a share of nine clean sheets in 15 appearances. Suspension or injury might escalate any situation rather quickly.

The element of surprise

There are always a couple of Premier League starlets who emerge as real prospects while on loan in the Championship, from Tammy Abraham and Harry Wilson to Mason Mount, Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher.

Michael O’Neill was keen himself last January only for Stoke’s perilous position in the table put the kibosh on interest in Brewster, Gallagher and Patrick Roberts. They’re not cheap deals either and not all managers are keen on almost being forced on selection.

But Stoke also have a young talent within their own ranks who hasn’t been seen in the Championship this year – and Thibaud Verlinden’s potential was something to get excited even when Stoke were in the top flight.

Verlinden suffered a knee injury since February and has been building up sharpness with the under-23s in the past few weeks while the first team’s training and manager’s focus has been from match to match.

An international break is the first big chance to catch O’Neill’s eye and Stoke are expected to line up a behind closed doors game for the fringe men who haven’t been involved in the frantic fixture list so far.

The key for Verlinden is to prove that he can be trusted not only to put full-backs on their backside but also make the right decisions and work for the team. It’s within his grasp.

The proven quality

If any Championship club went and signed a fit Joe Allen in January it wouldn’t half be a statement of intent. No one else in the division will be bringing in anyone with anything near his calibre.

Yet Stoke are hoping for as good as that before January, even if there is still no set date just on when Allen might be running out again on a match day. Put your cheque book back in your pocket, Mr Coates.

A strong half-season or more from the 30-year-old midfielder would be a big boon for Michael O’Neill, who was such a clear fan before injury struck in March.

How quickly he can settle in and find his form is obviously a big unknown after eight months on the sidelines but Stoke’s squad will be all the stronger when he’s back in it.





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