Who should replace Joe Allen in Stoke City’s midfield? What should we be looking out for in the youth ranks? What’s the right approach with football and coronavirus?
On our fans’ panel this week to discuss that and more are PAUL RUANE, from Trentham; ANT BUNN, from Endon; and RUNAR KVERNEN, from Oslo.
We spoke to them before the postponements, but decided to let you have their thoughts anyway as they could remain relevant going forward (if there is still a season to be had!)…
What’s your starting XI v Reading?
Paul Ruane: I can’t see Michael O’Neill making many changes, apart from the enforced one to cover for Joe Allen’s injury: Butland, Smith, Batth, Chester, Martins Indi, Cousins, Thompson, Clucas, Ince, Powell, Campbell.
Personally, I’d like to see Nathan Collins given another start, but I don’t think we’ll see a change this weekend. I think the manager will opt for Cousins, if fit, rather than Oakley-Booth.
It’s a three game week, so we may see one or two changes on Wednesday for the visit of Middlesbrough.
Ant Bunn: I’d play exactly the same team as the last game, but obviously we have to find someone to fill Joe Allen’s boots. Our Welsh international midfielder’s performances have gone to another level since Michael O’Neill took over, and I don’t think we have another player in the squad who can do the Joe Allen job as well as Joe can.
He brings energy, legs and tenacity to a midfield that sometimes can lack those, and he will be a big loss for the run-in. I think the manager will bring in Jordan Cousins as a replacement, and he will play a lot more centrally than Joe and probably deeper, allowing the likes of Thompson to get further up the pitch when required.
The only other change I think he might make is to bring in Vokes for Campbell, but I wouldn’t. Tyrese’s all-round display was excellent last week and he offers far more to us, especially if we want to get in behind Reading or when the game needs stretching.
If fit, I’d play Ryan Shawcross, but I don’t know if the manager will change the back four. One of the gaffer’s strengths has been to keep as settled a side as possible.
Runar Kvernen: Starting XI, 4-2-3-1 – Butland, Smith, Batth, Chester, Martins Indi, Cousins, Thompson, Ince, Powell, Clucas, Campbell.
Hard to drop any after Hull. We will miss Allen, but this could work. Campbell could go out wide, with Vokes in, if needed. No time for skip Shawcross at this one or to rush McClean. Matches coming in a row.
What’s your prediction?
Paul Ruane: I’ll go for a 2-2 draw, with goal from Campbell and hope that Ince gets one on target.
Ant Bunn: Four points from the next two games would be superb, and so I’d be happy with a point. But hopefully if we get a lead on Saturday, we’ll be a bit more positive than we were at Luton a fortnight ago. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.
Runar Kvernen: Reading are a far better side than Hull, but I think Stoke could win: 1-3.
Any other business
Paul Ruane: While the under-18s Premier League Cup final defeat by a very talented Manchester City side was a huge disappointment, it should not distract from the progress that the Academy teams are making. The under-18s were also disappointing in their FA Youth Cup defeat at Bradford City, but disappointing performances for them are few and far between.
There’s enough talent in the squad to move a few up to the under-23s. The strategy of getting many of the under-18s out on loan at local non-league teams, even if it is only for a few games will toughen them up. They are unlikely to come up against the technical excellence of the Citizens, but it is adding to their all-round experience.
Although, at the time of writing, the date has not been officially announced for the under-23s Premier League 2 Cup quarter final away to Liverpool, it looks like it will be the same day as the first team away at Wigan and the under-18s away at Manchester City. That will give Kevin Russell and Richard Walker a few selection headaches
It is difficult to find much information for the under-15s Floodlit Cup, but I believe that the Potters are in the semi-final of the Northern section. They are due to meet Manchester United, who beat Leeds United in a quarter-final on Thursday. If the Potters are victorious, Manchester City await in the final.
Ant Bunn: Obviously, at the time I’m writing this, it’s not yet certain what is to happen with football matches and sporting events in this country in the short and long term. Whatever happens, public safety and health should come before anything else. It always should. If that means football has to be massively affected, like other areas of everyday life, then so be it.
The first football match in England has been cancelled but it will possibly be the first of many. Common sense and clarity are the order of the day for me.
Runar Kvernen: Stoke need to battle down Reading, be on the front foot and first on the ball. I will be in the stands so come on Stoke!