Maybe it was too much turkey and all the trimmings, but I fell for a fake Twitter account post last Saturday.
Purporting to be the official Stoke City FC account, @stokecityy (note the double ‘y’) was congratulating Thibaud Verlinden on his loan move to Shrewsbury Town for the rest of the 2020/21 season.
Of course, I should have spotted the repeated letter at the end of the handle – a total giveaway – but the thing that got me was the fact that this information was all too plausible: our exciting, young winger needs games.
And for whatever reason Thibaud isn’t getting any game time at Stoke at the moment.
Not even on Saturday night when, against the general run of play in what was an otherwise decent performance against a very good Bournemouth team, and with Stoke struggling for any cutting edge, despite creating a lot of good situations. Even then, Michael O’Neill had chosen to leave both Verlinden and indeed Tom Ince out of the matchday squad altogether.
The difference between them?
Clearly Ince has ample opportunity in a Stoke shirt, while Thibaud, partly due to age and experience, partly due to that long term injury and partly due to being sparsely used by O’Neill has not.
It feels like Thibaud has plenty to offer in terms of running directly at a full-back, with pace, and putting crosses in.
Clearly the manager doesn’t at the present time and whatever your feeling about Verlinden, you cannot argue that Michael O’Neill has put plenty of credit in the bank in terms of his judgement in the last 14 months. So I will sit on my frustration and back the manager.
But Verlinden needs to play. And that’s why I fell hook, line and sinker for the rogue tweet. It makes complete sense for him to go out on loan if he isn’t going to be given a chance at Stoke right now.
He disappeared off to Bolton for the first half of last season (farmed out controversially by Nathan Jones) and O’Neill rated him highly enough to recall him and throw him in before injury struck.
So why not a loan move now if he isn’t going to be involved in the Potters’ first team?
Because at the moment we need to be looking at every option that can score us a goal. They are rarer than four-leafed clovers just at the minute. City have scored just five times in the last 11 league games, having netted 11 goals in the previous four matches.
That’s a marked turnaround in fortunes, dependent entirely upon losing our first choice front line of Tyrese Campbell and Steven Fletcher, who went off injured yet again against Bournemouth on Saturday.
Without those two we look less likely to score than your Nan from the halfway line.
It’s imperative that if we are to keep up our challenge for the play-off spots, which in all other respects we are equipped to do given how we were comfortable at the back against Bournemouth for the large part of Saturday night and outplayed them in midfield for much of the game, attacking reinforcements who can go into the starting line up and take the chances which went a-begging against the Cherries are secured.
But the January window isn’t just about getting attackers that can come straight into the first team in… there are huge question marks hanging over the heads of a range of existing players.
If Thibaud is to be farmed out on loan, what should happen with Ince? He’s failed to produce more times in a Stoke shirt than your Grandad, wearing his favourite Christmas prezzie, after a second helping of sprouts.
And hasn’t Sam Vokes been given enough chances?
Or indeed where lies the future of other peripheral figures like Liam Lindsay and then Austrians Moritz Bauer and Kevin Wimmer?
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We all know that a left-back arriving is imperative too.
So, it’s going to be a busy few weeks for Michael O’Neill and his backroom recruitment team this January; a month which will shape our season.
While we are all stuck at home, avoiding the virus and getting our football kicks vicariously, wishing we were there, freezing our toes off at the fog-bound, snow-laden bet365 Stadium, all we can do is turn to the media, and social media, for news of what’s happening at our beloved Stoke City FC.
But whatever you do, don’t believe the first tweet you see about incomings and outgoings…. Only a fool would do that…