Win for Michael O’Neill as Stoke City drive through subs change


Michael O’Neill is expected to be able to make up to five substitutes again when he locks horns with Tony Pulis at the end of next week.

O’Neill has been calling for a return to emergency measures which were used in the final few weeks of last season, to help counter increased injury risk due to fatigue in a hectic schedule.

Stoke City are fitting a season into a month less than normal and are playing every weekend and mid-week from late August to January 2 except international breaks.

StokeonTrentLive reported last week that the issue was set to go to a vote with Championship clubs with a positive outcome expected – despite Premier League chiefs ignoring requests from Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes had hoped the change would happen before action resumed on Saturday – at home to Huddersfield Town – but now the Telegraph claims that the switch is likely to come into force on November 27.

Stoke – who also face Norwich next Tuesday – play Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Saturday, November 28.

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O’Neill previously told StokeonTrentLive: “I’m at a loss really why we decided changing to three substitutions from five, which we had post-lockdown.

“The schedule of the games is the same. It’s arguably greater to be honest and that’s only going to continue.

“Why we were permitted to have five substitutions for nine games at the end of last season and with the match at Watford with league and cup games we are already 14 into this one and no longer allowed that.

“We’ve played every mid-week since the start of the season.

“It would help the players, it would help the managers and I think it would be better for the game in terms of players being fresher to play.”

The issue was discussed at last week’s EFL board meeting, when live streams and salary caps were also on the agenda.

Scholes told StokeonTrentLive: “We as a club never really understood why the five substitutes from nine – which was brought in after the lockdown period – was withdrawn going into this season when the game schedule was at least as heavy as the end of last season.

“Michael has spoken over the last few weeks about how that has made it more difficult for teams with the number of games we’ve got coming thick and fast. It’s difficult for the manager to make sure players are fit to play, ready to play and not going into games risking injury through fatigue.

“Michael has argued that and we’ve argued it. It went to the EFL yesterday for a vote so our hope is that the Championship will decide to revert to the lockdown rules, which was five from a bench of nine or at worst, five from a bench of seven.

“We’re about to enter a period of 13 games in 42 days and that’s an incredible run up to and during the Christmas period.

“There’s a player welfare and prevention of injury angle to this as well.

“It was debated honestly at the Football League meeting and debated well by everyone. Hopefully clubs will vote in the majority.”

England manager Gareth Southgate suggested that a potentially season-ending injury that Liverpool’s Joe Gomez had picked up in training was down to fatigue.

He said following the defeat to Belgium: “We were able to make five changes against Belgium – four in the end – and clubs don’t have that option.

“What will it take for that to change? There were a couple of less serious injuries against Belgium but what do we do? Wait until we get a load of really nasty ones?”

He added: “Unfortunately, the injury was so unique in how it happened, we know it was just a consequence of the number of games.

“Wherever he had been, there’s a chance it would have happened. But we (Klopp and I) are on the same page, we think the welfare of the players is critical.”





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