Was this the lowest point of Michael O’Neill’s four months at Stoke City?



Michael O’Neill looked inconsolable, most probably because he was.

It was about 20 minutes after Stoke were beaten 2-1 at Hull back on December 7.

We shared his pain, a couple of reporters and a couple of club employees, as we stood with O’Neill in a corridor for about five minutes waiting for the Hull manager to finish his press conference behind a closed door.

It was one of those moments when next to nothing was said and everyone wanted to be anywhere but there, not least the Stoke manager.

Stoke had lost a 1-0 lead that afternoon en route to a third successive defeat to leave them 23rd in the table.

Things were looking particularly grim again and that was etched all over O’Neill’s blank, yet pained, expression.

After winning his first two games as Stoke manager, the magic had gone it seemed and O’Neill looked like he had the world on his shoulders.

We even wondered afterwards whether another couple of bad results might persuade him Stoke was a lost cause and his best interests would be served by returning long-term to his international job with Northern Ireland.

Thankfully not, though Stoke’s prospects still remain precarious, if not quite so hopeless as they were threatening to appear that evening in Hull three months ago. 

After the game, Hull were on 29 points and Stoke on 14.

It seemed impossible that their paths should ever cross in the league table.

But since that first meeting in early December, Hull have gained 12 points and Stoke 25.

And so O’Neill’s men now lie just two points behind, one win away from leapfrogging Hull and hopefully leaving them in their slipstream over the remaining nine games which follow this weekend’s big bash at the bet 365.

Those draws at Blackburn and Luton would then look a lot better than they do right now – but losing, or even drawing, at home to Hull, who’ve now picked up just two points from 10 games, would be a grievous blow to their belief, our belief, that they can survive relegation.

That’s some pressure to carry into the game, but one the players must live with and even thrive off.

Failure to do so this weekend and some of us, like it or not, could accurately picture O’Neill’s demeanour behind closed doors.

It would be December 7 all over again.





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