“If I’m going to draw any conclusion from the past week it’s the fact that we can be assured this is a set of Stoke City players that do want to save themselves.
We were wondering earlier in the season when they lurched from one crisis to another, but there is a stability under Michael O’Neill and fingers crossed all the good, hard work clearly going on behind the scenes on the training ground bears fruit.
They certainly have to show their mettle against fellow strugglers Luton this weekend, then in the next four fixtures, too, which are also against teams in that bottom nine.
From Reading down, there’s nine points covering nine clubs and any three from this group, Stoke included of course, could be relegated.
Luton v Stoke once looked like a particularly interesting fixture after one lost their manager to the other in rather controversial circumstances just over a year ago.
But Nathan Jones is no longer with us and it’s easy to see why when you look back on his record and compare it to O’Neill’s.
Jones was in charge for 14 league games this season and he won just two of them to collect eight points in all.
O’Neill’s first 14 league games, by contrast, saw him win six and take 21 points.
One interesting move by O’Neill tactically over the past week was to revert to a holding midfielder and to give the job to the largely untried and untested figure of January signing Jordan Thompson.
Having that holding midfielder back again allowed Sam Clucas and Joe Allen to push further forward, but also gave Stoke the option of one staying back to support Thompson, or all three, depending on the state of the game.
That holding midfielder also has a knock-on effect to other areas of the team and there was a balance about them against Cardiff last week.
I didn’t see the 0-0 draw at Blackburn, but am told it was a similar story.
As for Thompson himself, he strikes me as a player with a useful left foot whose distribution is neat and who therefore linked in well with Clucas and Allen.
He also tidied things up nicely defensively and seems to have a little burst of speed that makes him mobile over short distances to either make the tackle or block off the space.
Further upfield, Nick Powell was out on the left, but with his ability to come in-field onto his right, and Tom Ince doing likewise with his left foot from the right, it added a nice variety to Stoke’s attacking options.
I can see James Chester returning for Nathan Collins because O’Neill will want his experience at Luton, which I understand, but the manager’s man-management and communication will be vital in letting the youngster down gently after he did well at Blackburn.
It sounds like Tyrese Campbell could do with a break and having him as an impact from the bench at Luton is no bad thing if he is given a rest.
I’d go with Lee Gregory in his place because he gives you that `out’ ball better than Sam Vokes because of his ability to get in behind, while his honest work-rate allows him to grind them down for an hour or so.”
Norwich 1, Leicester 2. Brighton 2, C Palace 2. Bournemouth 0, Chelsea 1. Newcastle 1, Burnley 1. West Ham 0, Southampton 0. Watford 1, Liverpool 2. Everton 2, Man Utd 2. Tottenham 1, Wolves 1. League Cup Final: Aston Villa 1, Man City 3. LUTON TOWN 0, STOKE CITY 1.