Michael O’Neill was happy with his four league debutants after watching Stoke City draw at Millwall.
O’Neill handed starts to summer signings Morgan Fox and John Obi Mikel while Steven Fletcher and Jacob Brown came off the bench to try to wrestle a win.
“I was pleased with Morgan and John Obi,” said O’Neill.
“John needs more football, clearly. He’s come in but hasn’t played any football since March. We got 45 minutes into, a bit more against Leeds and he got 70 against Newcastle. Game by game he’ll get stronger.
“I think he gives us a real presence in there, he’s got brilliant game knowledge and it will help Sam Clucas and Nick Powell, make them more offensive. In that system it’s really important that the two 8s give you that forward thrust as well.
“And the two lads who came on were very good.
“Fletcher showed exactly why we brought him to the club. He’s got a touch of class, he links the play, he’s brave and Jacob was terrific. He was brave, he was quick and he was always a threat.”
Stoke City player ratings
We were at sixes and sevens at The Den as Stoke’s opening day winless run stretches to 11 years while they haven’t won in London since 2014 – but few are denying a draw at Millwall is pretty decent.
How about this for Steven Fletcher?
“Immediately made things happen, with accompanying groans from defenders.”
Michael O’Neill’s post-match verdict
It’s fair to say that the Stoke manager wasn’t impressed with the late penalty call.
He said: “The referee has a decision to make whether he gives a penalty, there’s clear contact. Hutchinson comes straight into the back of Jacob, Jacob gets to the ball first. For me, that would constitute a penalty. It certainly doesn’t constitute a dive.”
Gary Rowett’s post-match verdict
Lots of compliments about physical, strong, resilient Stoke who will, he reckons, win a lot of games on the road this season.
He said: “I’d expect them to be difficult to play against. They are very physical. They can mix it up when they get into the final third because they have good players in the likes of Clucas and Powell to give them that technical element.
“I don’t think they’re necessarily going to out-pass teams or be that type of team but they’ll be very strong and certainly towards the right end of the table as opposed to last season when they were battling down the bottom end.
“So yes, I would expect them to be much better this year.”