How should Michael O’Neill send out Stoke City at Blackburn Rovers and can they return south with three points? What difference has the club’s early transfer business made to the squad? What is still needed?
To discuss all that and more on our fans’ panel this week are OLLIE WALTON, from Newcastle; ADAM BOULTON, from Stafford; and RICHARD JAMES, from Blythe Bridge.
What’s your starting XI?
Ollie Walton: I’m going to make a big call and revert back to the much more free flowing 433, as well as putting all three of the new recruits in from the start. My starting XI would be: Bursik; Collins, Souttar, Chester, Rhys N-D; Allen, Cousins, Powell; Clarke, Brown, Matondo.
Adam Boulton: With the signings this week I really hope we see the 4-3-3 system. I’m quite excited to see who he plays where because few of the players can swap positions with each other. My starting line-up is Bursik, Collins, Norrington-Davies, Souttar, Chester, Mikel, Allen, Clucas, Matondo, Clarke and Powell.
Hopefully now after Mikel, Allen and Clucas have had minutes they can show why they should be the best centre midfield trio in the division.
Richard James: Hard to judge with injuries and new additions but the arrival of a left back will surely see us revert to the preferred 4-3-3 formation. I’d like to see Powell up front if Fletcher is still missing as Vokes needs a break following some below par showings.
There may of course be a question mark as to whether the manager will hand out three debuts but if he does I’d like to see: Bursik, Collins, Souttar, Chester, Norrington-Davies, Mikel, Clucas, Allen, Matondo, Powell, Clarke.
What’s your prediction?
Ollie Walton: While our goals have dried up in recent weeks, I do see us scoring and keeping relatively tight at the back against Blackburn.
They’re also a team in poor form and have been hit by a fair few injuries since we last played them a couple weeks ago, however the signing of Jarrad Branthwaite at centre back will certainly bolster their options.
That said, I always have to back the Potters and I will predict a 2-1 away win with Powell and Brown getting on the scoresheet, and Armstrong for the hosts.
Adam Boulton: I’m going for a 2-0 win for Stoke. I can see us sitting deep and hitting them on the break with the pace we have got now in the side. My scorers are Clucas and Powell.
Richard James: Make no bones about it this will be a tough fixture especially as with our team struggling for form and goals on the back of our best attacking options missing. I’d take a 1-1 draw now to be honest with some promising showing from the new lads.
Any other business
Ollie Walton: I’d like to hail our transfer business so far this January. There has been some negativity in years gone by about our recruitment team and their processes, so they deserve to be praised duly too.
All three signings so far are young, fast and in the positions that we desperately needed, so well done to whoever is completing the deals behind the scenes.
I still think a striker is the priority though, so I hope we can get one more through the door by the end of the month, as well as some outgoings to trim the squad.
Adam Boulton: I’m going to congratulate the new recruitment team on what is looking like a superb transfer window for us.
It’s great to see us have a fresh-looking recruitment team which look like they have done their groundwork on players before the window opens so that we can strike quite quickly in getting the players in. I can’t remember the last time we signed this many players so quickly into a transfer window. I just hope they are good at getting rid of some of the dead wood.
I’m quite excited to see how Matondo, Clarke and Norrington-Davies perform because they will definitely add one thing which we severely lack and what teams hate – that is pace.
Doughty is an interesting signing which I thought would spell the end of McClean at Stoke even before his suspension.
Richard James: The last few days in the transfer market have given us a real glimpse into what Michael O’Neill really wants from his Stoke team. There have been lots of overreaction about how we’ve played of late and our lack of goals but it has to be put into context.
The lack of a left back and our two main strikers has meant we’ve not been able to play using the system we want and without Fletcher and Campbell we find ourselves in a situation similar to Liverpool would be if they were without Salah and Firmino. Yes, there are players to come in but they are nowhere near the standard of the ones that are missing.
With a new left-back and two new exciting and perhaps more importantly, fast wingers we are only a striker away from looking a side that could really cause problems for our rivals.
Promotion this season may well be a stretch too far given the injuries we’ve suffered from day one but with some clever looking forays into the loan market we could still have a chance to make the play-offs as well as looking in good shape with the likes of Alfie Doughty being lined up for next term, should we fall short.