When we asked on social media who was Stoke City’s most underrated player so far this season the answers were almost all the same: Jordan Thompson.
The 23-year-old was hauled from Blackpool for a modest undisclosed fee in January as Michael O’Neill’s first signing, having worked together with Northern Ireland.
He had started out on the books of Manchester United then moved to Rangers before getting his break in senior English football at Bloomfield Road.
He’d actually been in and out of the Blackpool team in the first half of last season – partly due to League One carrying on while he was off on international duty – and was described as a midfielder who could play as a number 10.
But he’s had a decent amount of game time in the division above, making 15 appearances in the second half of 2019/20 and 12 out of 15 in league and cup so far this term.
He’s had to step up alongside John Obi Mikel in the absence of Sam Clucas (calf and shin) and Joe Allen (Achilles) and he’s adapted as a battling, disciplined sidekick for the veteran – with the added bonus of being the best deliverer of set pieces at Stoke in a long time.
His corners and free-kicks are a genuine threat and that was never more highlighted than when Stoke missed that outlet when they were under the cosh against Swansea – and Thompson was ruled out with concussion.
Along the way, he became only the second Stoke player in five years to clock up more than 100 passes in one game, finding a teammate 104 times in the Carabao Cup win over Gillingham – including a beautiful 60-yard assist for Tyrese Campbell’s winner.
O’Neill said: “Jordan’s adapting to playing. We brought him here from League One but technically he’s an excellent player.
“That side of the game (putting in a shift) he’s improved so much and him and John Obi, I think, have been terrific.
“If you’d look at us last year and wondered if we would be able to cope without Sam Clucas and Joe Allen in midfield, I think people would have thought that wouldn’t be the case.
“But we’ve had to do that in recent weeks and Jordan brings a lot to the team – and he has great delivery at set pieces as well.
“I think with every game the younger players are growing. Harry Souttar was terrific (at Reading).
“This is a tough league to bring young players into but if you look at Saturday we had four or five players who are 21 and under. That’s a positive for the club and we have to continue with that.”
Thompson is currently away with Northern Ireland and could have three more appearances under his belt by the time Stoke take on Huddersfield in the Championship – Slovakia tomorrow, Austria on Sunday and Romania next Wednesday.
O’Neill will be hoping he somehow stays fresh for a rush of 13 fixtures until the New Year because he will continue to play a key part for Stoke, whether that’s on or under the radar.