Sometimes you have to bite your tongue as a manager. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth through a frustrating, disappointing, exasperating performance.
Stoke City had come off the back of two home wins when they went to Barnsley, the ship is steady, so you just have to be careful in how you handle the players.
They had done enough to beat Sheffield Wednesday and completely dominated against Luton when everyone was firing on all cylinders.
Yes, there was a moment that irritated me just before half-time when they passed a free-kick backwards and, to use the manager’s phrase, gave oxygen to the opposition.
But there no problems whatsoever after the interval, there was good momentum all the way and it was a decent, well-pleasing, solid performance.
So was it the players or the manager who takes the credit for that and the blame for what happened next at Oakwell?
Words can be throwaway things in post-match interviews and you can tell O’Neill was irritated by what he’d seen.
It is natural to feel like ripping shreds off them at times but you can’t lash out in public, especially when they had won their previous two games. You need them again, after all, three days later – and at Brentford, no less, who have now got back on track.
There isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Steven Fletcher or someone with pace who can threaten behind defences in his and Tyrese Campbell’s absence. If we play Sam Vokes, you need service from wide areas and that’s what they tried to address in January by signing wingers.
If Vokes isn’t the man to stand in, why didn’t we let him go in January and keep Lee Gregory, who does make defenders work?
Was the thinking in that transfer window that we had enough in the squad? Have we got ourselves into that much of a pickle with players on long contracts who we can’t seem to shift that we can’t bring in any better?
The manager can’t do anything about changing that now so he has to tread carefully with the players until he’s in private when he and his coaches can rip into them on the training pitch and demand better.
Take out your frustrations by taking them through what went wrong and working on the next one.
You can leave the public thrashings to the pundits and the fans, who I’m sure will voice their opinions loud enough. You have to educate your players, put all your energies into training, the opposition’s tactics and their workings, what to expect from them, their strengths and how to get into their weaknesses.
O’Neill has done well to get Stoke from where they were to where they are but you can’t keep always looking back at the mess he inherited. We have to keep looking forward and how we can improve.
The board is obviously backing him for the long-term and that means he is in a position to think about blooding youngsters, particularly if he doesn’t trust previous manager’s expensive recruits.
There are a couple of options in attack if Fletcher isn’t fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if we went 3-4-3 and used Nick Powell in the middle, sitting just off the front as Pep Guardiola plays his striker.
He could play Powell on the left with Vokes central, as worked at Aston Villa a lot earlier this season.
The key is to have options wide and that formation gives that with full-backs and wingers ahead of them. Out of possession it can become a 5-4-1.
Taking a longer view, we knew even on the day that Fletcher signed that we also need a younger version of the same kind of player, ready to step in and challenge for his place when they get a chance rather than demand a change in formation.
There is a chance to take a look at Christian Norton or Ethon Varian and see if they are ready to swim. You need competition not just in terms of winning games but within the club of being number one in different positions. O’Neill is in a lucky position in modern football that he has a board that will give him time to let players find their feet if the ship keeps going in the right direction.
And, despite the Barnsley defeat, there is still a door swinging on that play-off zone.
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The top four are challenging for the two automatic promotion spots but the next two positions are still to be decided. Bournemouth are on a bad run, Reading are on a sticky wicket.
Middlesbrough are dropping, Millwall are steady, Cardiff are on the up and Barnsley are full of confidence. Then there’s Bristol City with a new manager bounce and Stoke needing to find their best form of the season.
There are eight clubs in the chase but it is a chase.
Stoke’s final 10 home games of the season will shape a lot of that. We drew with Reading and won the next two with seven to go. One lousy night at Barnsley doesn’t throw it all down the plug hole.