There were some proper old school elements on show at Stoke City on Saturday: blustery, swirling conditions, Rory Delap warming up before the game, scrappy goals and a clean sheet.
It was just like old times!
Think back a decade when we had the open corner, Delap chucking howitzers into the penalty area to frighten defences and not coaching from the bench and the likes of Shawcross, Huth and Faye keeping opposing attackers quiet. It stirs the passions doesn’t it?
Well, those type of elements are coming back together as Michael O’Neill works out how he can meld a consistent team from this hotch potch bequeathed to him by preceding managers.
The mark of a good manager is how they bring a team back from a bad performance, especially when they are having to deal with the loss of a key player (in this case two) in a key position.
Without James McClean or Thibaud Verlinden, O’Neill had little choice but to stick with the 11 players who had so badly let him down at Queen’s Park Rangers the previous week. There had been rumours of major changes in defence, but O’Neill stuck to his guns rather than recall Edwards, Lindsay or bring in Nathan Collins. It was a risk, but paid off as the back four were solid and cohesive, where they had been porous and all over the shop the previous weekend.
Plenty of work had gone on at the training ground, then. Plus a lot of hard talking, I imagine.
Brownie points to O’Neill, who is proving his resilience in adversity; presumably honed to perfection managing minnows Northern Ireland against countries like Holland and Germany.
It was a pretty forgettable game, but Stoke had by far the better of what football there was on show and won the battles for the rest of the match. The two goals were as ugly as you will ever see, but who cares?
It was a vital victory.
Without doubt points are far more vital than performance right now.
Resilience trumps style and guts is far more important than footballing quality for the rest of the season.
There will be a time for all that to come through once we are officially safe and, particularly, after O’Neill has been able to revamp his squad over the summer.
There were a few flashes on show against Cardiff. Nick Powell was the one shining light in terms of football quality on the pitch, while Tyrese Campbell showed enough to know he is the future.
Powell played out on the left to plug the gap left by injuries and Jordan Thompson was surprisingly switched to holding midfielder. He delivered a top performance, neat and tidy with some perceptive passes out from the back.
More evidence that O’Neill can switch things up to deliver the necessary results.
Arguably most impressive was Jack Butland, who dealt well with the wind and lots of high balls into the box from Cardiff. Having been stuck to his line so often, Butland had clearly made a conscious decision to come out and he was rewarded.
We now have a run of seven games which will define whether Stoke can beat the drop – something which seemed nigh on impossible before O’Neill joined – before a tough run in. It’s vital, then, that O’Neill keeps the momentum moving forward in two away games at Blackburn in midweek and then at Luton, a six pointer if ever there was one.
Will Stoke City stay up this season?
0+ VOTES SO FAR
I’d be quite happy to grind out some more points with similar performances to Saturday’s that saw off in-form Cardiff. The problem is with this Stoke team you never know what’s coming next.
Hold onto your hats, folks!