‘Move forward again’ – Stoke City boss weighs up first full season at the wheel


Michael O’Neill can see positives among the frustrations of his first full season at Stoke City as he looks for the key to improve next time.

Stoke are heading into what should hopefully be their final game – and final game behind closed doors – of a condensed campaign of two halves.

They were nudging elbows at the top of the table on their way to reaching the Carabao Cup quarter-finals before Christmas but a dreadful run of injuries has seen the side slip slowly down the table and they are on a six-match winless run ahead of the finale at Bournemouth on Saturday.

The injury list calculator has players missing more than 200 matches over the last seven months, with only Harry Souttar and Danny Batth largely unaffected, even if one had to spend time in self isolation due to Covid and the other needed internal stitches on a deep-to-the-bone head wound.

Stoke’s priority in the transfer window is to lower the numbers of players who have no future at the club except for in their contracts – but there is also a need to bring in fresh quality and improve the squad O’Neill already has in place.

“We have to learn,” said the manager.

“It’s been a difficult season, I think, for the players. There’s no crowd and you feel a crowd would have helped us against QPR, for example, to get forward and get an equaliser, get your tails up so you can go and win the game.

“You have to lift yourself all the time in games and we’re trying to lift them consistently as well.

“I think for a number of the younger players it’s been a positive year because they’ve made that breakthrough and played a lot of games in the Championship, which they haven’t done previously.


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“I think a little bit at times in the last six to eight games we’ve been running on empty with senior players. We haven’t had the ability to change that with the nature of injuries that we’ve had. That’s where I see it.

“Ultimately, our players have to go away, have to rest and have to come back ready to play and ready to prove themselves.

“I think we’ve got a really good work ethic at the club at this minute in time and we need to bring the right players to the club to help us move forward again.

“In the second half of the season we’ve come up short too many times in too many games but I can’t think of too many games when we’ve been totally outplayed. Possibly Norwich away is the only one when I think we were against a different level of opposition and they’ve won the league.

“I think in the other games we’ve been more than a match for a lot of the teams and better than a lot of teams but unfortunately that hasn’t translated into the results that we’ve hoped for.”





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