Former Stoke City manager Lou Macari casts an eye on the local football scene in his weekly column.
Here’s Part I from Lou, with a look at some decisions facing Michael O’Neill…
“Michael O’Neill’s comments about Ryan Shawcross and James McClean are a credit to both players.
“Not only have both come back in good condition after long-term injuries, but apparently they have been scoring high in all the fitness tests since the players reported back for training last Monday.
“That’s good news for the manager to have two of his more experienced players ready to go. But I just wonder if Michael will have to think more carefully about starting either player, certainly than he would if this were the start of a normal season.
“If we were kicking off in August with 46 games ahead of us then you could take a look at a player for a game or two, maybe ease him back in, and take him out if you feel he’s not quite ready.
“But the situation is quite different with just nine games to play when, if all goes to plan, the Championship season kicks off again on June 20.
“Both players have obviously looked after themselves and worked really hard, but the manager will want to be 100 per cent sure they are ready if he’s going to play them.
“Stoke were heading away from relegation trouble when the season was put on hold back in mid-March, but they are still only three points clear so will want to get off to a fast start when the games resume later this month.
“There won’t be crowds at the games so the atmosphere will be strange but it will still be a searching physical test over 90 minutes.
“If you are safe in mid-table then you have the luxury of looking at players, not so much when relegation is still a possibility.
“That will help the players adjust to playing 90-minute games in front of an empty stadium. It will also just give the manager a bit more idea about whether he can throw in two experienced players when the season restarts.
“I’m just pleased we’ve got a date for the new season. I always felt that when football restarted in Germany, English football would follow suit, certainly in the top two divisions.
“There’s going to be a lot of games in the Premier League and Championship in the space of a few weeks, so plenty to watch on TV.
“Let’s not get carried away here, the games are mostly going to appeal to fans of those clubs and I am not sure neutrals will be clamouring to watch two or three games every day. But I am pleased to see that at least some matches are going to be made available on free to air TV.
“So, fans will be able to watch a top flight game live on the BBC for the first time since the Premier League began back in 1992.”