Ryan Shawcross is on standby to make his first Stoke City start of the season after Michael O’Neill was hit by another trio of injuries in a hard-fought win over Middlesbrough.
Danny Batth, Nick Powell and Sam Clucas were all forced off after taking blows from Neil Warnock’s side and Clucas, whose right foot was put into an air boot, is the most unlikely to be fit to face Cardiff on Tuesday.
Shawcross, who has been blighted by injuries since breaking a leg in the summer of 2019, was on for half an hour and – although the plan had been for him to get another run out with the under-23s – he could be called upon right away.
“It was terrific to see Ryan back out there,” said O’Neill.
“It’s never an ideal situation coming on as a centre back but you could hear him out there talking. It’s been a real difficult time for Ryan. Since I’ve come to the club I’ve just seen him continually having to try to get back from injury and I’ve seen how hard he’s worked to do that, how diligent he is and unfortunately he’s had setbacks along the way.
“To see him come on the pitch and play in a winning team is a big plus for us.”
He added: “I think it’s probably too soon (to play 90 minutes), but we’ll see. We may have to make a decision on that regarding Tuesday with possibly so many players missing.”
O’Neill was fairly diplomatic about Warnock’s tactics – and insisted that Stoke “gave as good as we got”.
He said: “I don’t think the foul on Sam Clucas was malicious. I think it was two players trying to get to the ball. Sam gets there first and the Middlesbrough player (Sam Morsy) is probably a little bit late.
“I thought the tackle on Nick Powell (by George Saville) was possibly a little bit naughty. But listen, there were a lot of competitive challenges in the game. We gave as good as we got.
“I thought the front players (Tyrese Campbell and Jacob Brown) had to take a lot of physical contact and they did it. They’re both young lads and they showed that side of the game, which is what they’re going to need.
“We see what they’re capable of when they’re running away from people and the pace and threat that they have. We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for a similar game on Tuesday night.”
Nathan Collins scored the winner with a header; his second goal in three-and-a-half games since coming in at right-back.
O’Neill said: “I don’t see any reason why Nathan can’t continue and develop playing in that position. He is naturally a centre-back but I think playing there will help him when he does go to play centre-back.
“The thing about Nathan is, athletically, you see his ability to step into the game as well. He stays up from a set piece at second phase and he’s there to win a great header from a great ball in from Morgan Fox.”
The win puts Stoke up to fifth, even if O’Neill isn’t taking too much time to look at the league table.
“We have very little time to reflect on the game,” he said. “You move quickly onto the next one.
“We play a Cardiff team in good form. It was a great result for them (winning 1-0 at Watford) and we just have to see where we are bodies wise in terms of what team we put on the pitch.
“The young players stepped up. Josh Tymon was excellent when he came on as well and hopefully 24, 48 hours will give us a wee bit more time to get players back.”