Michael O’Neill admits Nick Powell is making a mockery of any preconceived reputation as he keeps stepping up as a team player for Stoke City.
Powell, a key player for O’Neill in the number 10 role since the New Year, shifted over to left midfield in a 2-0 win over Cardiff as Jordan Thompson moved into a holding role.
He had only started two games before O’Neill was appointed in November but has now played a major role in all Stoke’s last five goals.
“I’ve found Nick great,” said the manager. “He’s surprised me a little bit because you can come in and have a perception of players in terms of what they give to a team.
“Nick’s work rate and his athleticism has been the real surprise for me. What he’s given the team from that aspect has been fantastic.
“His quality has never been in doubt. He has that ability to do something a little bit different with the ball, the ability to get a goal… but for me, the most pleasing aspect was that we asked him to play slightly out of position and he put in a great shift and he was involved in the two key moments of the game as well.”
Stoke had only won one of their previous 13 home matches before O’Neill’s arrival but have won six and drawn two of his first 10, the second best record in the Championship in that time.
“It’s good,” he said. “We’ve done well here. It wasn’t easy place, maybe, to play earlier this season. There was a lot of frustration from supporters, which is natural and the players found it difficult.
“The main thing is to make your home ground as difficult as possible for teams to come to and our home form has played a big part in moving us up the table.
“We’ve had some good away wins too and we get the chance on Wednesday night to go to Blackburn, which is a difficult place. We have to go there believing we can take something.”
Stoke leapfrog Middlesbrough and Huddersfield to 19th but are still only three points above the drop zone ahead of trips to Blackburn and Luton.
O’Neill said: “We’re in a much better position than when we took over but we’re not going to get out of this situation. We didn’t expect to be five or six points ahead of where we are now, that would have taken an amazing run of form.
“Equally, from a cosmetic point of view the league table looks better but we’re well aware of the fact that we’re only three points above Wigan, who are on a great run of form themselves. And we’re dragging more and more teams into it all the time, which is good.”