Michael O’Neill might be tempted to repeat his trick from the Carabao Cup when Leicester City come to town for the FA Cup this weekend.
Stoke City’s run top the Carabao last eight gave O’Neill a chance to give players around his squad the chance to impress and work their way into the first team.
It was a platform for Harry Souttar, Nathan Collins and even Tyrese Campbell early in the season, as well as keeping Josh Tymon and Tashan Oakley-Boothe well in the fold.
Now, with players also returning from injury, there are more hoping for a run out to catch the eye.
“It’s a good game against Leicester when we have nothing to lose,” said the manager.
Who has something to win from Saturday afternoon, almost regardless of the result?
Only eight minutes so far on the pitch since recovering from a knee ligament injury that kept him out from February to pre-season.
The 21-year-old has shown skill in his performances for the under-23s as he finds his feet – but he has to take any chance to prove to Michael O’Neill that he can be relied upon for pressing too and all the stuff off the ball.
He probably needs the manager to go 3-4-3 to get on the pitch given the absence of Morgan Fox and any senior left-back.
But if not now, then will it ever happen?
Verlinden is clearly desperate to play, saying in an interview for the match programme last week: “For me at this moment in time I need to play. I won’t hide it, I need minutes but we’ll see how that goes. I just want to play as many games as I can now.”
Two substitute appearances in recent weeks as the Stoke City legend has made a return to the match day squad after an 18-month injury hell.
The 33-year-old has nothing to prove to anyone around here but he is determined to get his place back – and on the horizon, his contract is due to run out at the end of the season. He has been with Stoke since 2007 and heart strings are being tugged about what happens next.
He has designs on a coaching career – and already helps out in the Stoke Academy – but he is convinced he can still be a key man for the club he loves.
“I’ve been planning since I was 24, 25 and doing my coaching badges. That’s what I want to do next,” he said a couple of months ago.
“But I’m also reluctant to give up on myself too soon because I see myself training, I know what I can do. My fitness and speeds are all the same so it seems a shame to give up on myself too early.
“I know my age says I’m 33 but I don’t feel it. Hopefully there are a lot more years for me to play and I can stay at Stoke. There’s definitely a willingness from me to play on for another three or four years.”
There have been glimpses of Tashan Oakley-Boothe’s potential in the 12 months since he joined on a free transfer from Tottenham.
There were the shuffles in the penalty area to help Stoke beat Hull 5-1, driving runs from midfield to help Stoke get on top of 10-man Preston. When he backs himself and goes for it, he really improves the team.
It is a hard job getting in this midfield, however, especially with the returns from injury of Joe Allen, Sam Clucas and John Obi Mikel, as well as form of Jordan Cousins and Jordan Thompson – and Nick Powell further forward.
Oakley-Boothe got the nod in the quarter-final against Spurs and delivering against Leicester could genuinely catapult him right up the pecking order.
An important season for the 21-year-old, who had been kicked and shunted into the sidelines under previous managers.
He hasn’t been able to repeat the impact of his explosive cameo against Nottingham Forest on the final day of last season – but name a Championship player who has.
Instead he has shown other sides of his game, like discipline and grit in midfield. He’s made 12 starts in six different roles and is a real asset for the squad.
It would still be great – and he will still be at his best – if he can find a way of really showing his blinding pace. That’s the thing that could make him stand out. Dig out anything like that Forest performance on a semi-regular basis and he could be a star.
On paper it seems that is most likely to come at wing-back. Can he show it in reality?
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A cheeky one for this list as Stoke try to get a deal over the line for the 20-year-old Schalke winger.
He has hardly played this season – three starts in the Bundesliga – but would be coming in tasked with filling a critical role for O’Neill. The sooner he finds his flying feet, the better.