Michael O’Neill says he quickly realised he had a top class player on his hands in Sam Clucas, who has become the first Stoke City central midfielder in 21 years to score double figures.
Clucas grabbed a brace in a 5-1 win over former club Hull on Saturday and is a leading contender to be player of the season.
He had been a rare shining light in a challenging start under Nathan Jones and has remained at the forefront under O’Neill.
The 29-year-old is now, his manager says, going to have to help shoulder the burden as Stoke deal with the absence of Joe Allen.
O’Neill said: “Clucas has been brilliant, no doubt about that.
“Not only the types of goals that he does score but his all-round play, his quality on the ball, his ability to win the second ball, competition to win the ball in the air. Everything.
“I didn’t really know Sam much as a player before I came to the club but quite quickly I realised I had a top class player on my hands and he’s proven to be that.
“We need a lot from Sam before the end of the season in the absence of Joe.”
No Stoke central midfielder has scored 10 league goals since Graham Kavanagh got 11 in 1998/99, the rollercoaster season under Brian Little.
James O’Connor got 10 in 2000/01, including two in the League Cup.