Nathan Collins is desperate to play, more desperate for Stoke City to win and sounding every bit a manager’s dream.
The 18-year-old centre-back was recalled to the starting XI for the first time in the Championship since August when he helped secure a clean sheet and draw at Blackburn Rovers. It remains to be seen how vital that point will be in the long run but for now it – and goal difference – is the difference between Stoke and the relegation places.
No one made more clearances (seven) on a night that was about making clearances, if not having backs against the wall.
“I found out on Tuesday when we were training and doing our shape,” said Collins. “I was delighted and couldn’t wait to play. I just wanted the game to be straight away. I just wanted to play.
“Of course I’ve wanted to play but there’s no point me moaning about it, I need to be supportive and help the lads, especially considering the place we’re in. They don’t need anything like that.
“I just tried to make sure that I was ready whenever I was needed.
“I’ve always been pushing in training and when my name got called I was ready.”
James Chester had been rested, while Michael O’Neill also had the height of Sam Gallagher at inside right forward in mind.
O’Neill now has to weigh up how to line up his defence at Luton Town this weekend.
Collins said: “It’s not up to me, it’s up to the manager. Hopefully I’ve put something in his head. I don’t really mind at this point – I will play if needed but it’s all about the results.
“Of course I want to play every game, want to help us get out of this and go further, to push us higher.
“But right now I am concentrating on the team and we have to complete the task upon us.”
Ryan Shawcross is nearing a comeback from injury too while Liam Lindsay, who hasn’t played since Chester’s deadline day arrival, is also back fit.
A lot of competition but…
“Looking at it from another aspect they’re all great players and I can learn from them,” said Collins. “That’s the way I look at it.”
He added: “I’ve played with Danny (Batth) many times and he’s good for me, a good role model. On the pitch you can see what he does and I thought we did well at Blackburn.
“We knew Sam Gallagher would be a threat. At half-time we got in and sorted it out and we were much better in the second half.”
All of the bottom three won in mid-week to squeeze the relegation battle – and Luton are finding their best form of the season; three wins in four and four wins in seven.
Nerves? Not quite.
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Collins said: “It’s another great game, high expectations, a lot of people there. It’s a game you want to play in and I have no doubt about it I will back the player I’m playing with – I know they will give 100 per cent and, if I get a chance or whoever’s playing, will give 100 per cent too.
“Luton are scrappers and grafters. We played them at home and got the better of them but they can change the way they play. They can go long, they’re workhorses and a good squad. We know we’re going to be in for a fight.”
Stoke’s form isn’t bottom of the table either – mid-table for the last six games, seventh for the time since O’Neill took charge.
So it might be squeaky bum time but there is belief in that changing room, regardless of what surprises being sprung around them.
“You can’t look at the other results,” said Collins. “We need to be going into every game looking to win, we can’t control other teams. We have to control ourselves and get our points.
“We have confidence. We know the quality of the squad and since the manager’s come in I think we’ve got better as a whole.
“We have games coming up where we know we’ll have to work hard and we have to take our chances. If we do that then I think we’ll be all right.”