Michael O’Neill is trying to keep Stoke City players focused on themselves – and calm – as they head into a month of matches that will probably define the whole season.
Stoke head to Luton Town tomorrow to start a run of fixtures against six of a tightly-squeezed bottom nine as the battle to stay in the Championship intensifies.
The bottom three – Luton, Barnsley and Wigan Athletic – have narrowed the gap by all winning their mid-week games and there are only five points from 16th to 22nd.
But O’Neill said: “The players are aware of it but we don’t talk endlessly about what happens at other games, we talk about ourselves and about little targets and little goals within the group what we want.
“The key is not to focus on everything else that is going around you, the key is to focus on ourselves, how we’ll play, play each game as it comes, not make every game a do-or-die game mentally for the players but an opportunity to take three points.
“That’s the approach we’ll take between now and the end of the season.”
Stoke will stay up if they continue the form they have shown since O’Neill took the helm in November, inheriting a team that was six points adrift of safety and low on confidence.
Results in the 20 matches since then would have seen the side challenging for a play-off spot if stretched over the length of a season – but there is still a big chunk of work to do.
O’Neill said: “Everyone talks about 50 points as being the number for safety and we’re 12 away from that now. That’s four wins if you look at it like that.
“I think overall we’ve done reasonably well. There are areas where we could have picked up points that we haven’t managed but we’re certainly in there fighting and the application of the players and the desire of the players has been shown.”
Supporters are expected to travel in good numbers for their first league match at Kenilworth Road since August 2006.
O’Neill is weighing up a couple of selection decisions after handing a first league start in his watch to 18-year-old Nathan Collins at Blackburn on Wednesday. James Chester remains in contention.
Lee Gregory was energetic too when he replaced Tyrese Campbell, who has started five games in 18 days since returning from injury.