Stoke City boss admits surprise after relegation boost


Powell surprise

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 City 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.”

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Jack in the box

It feels like some cheek when an opponent turns up at Stoke City with an alleged long throw weapon.

But Cardiff have had success from Will Vaulks’s chucked crosses and boast the best record in the Championship at set pieces.

Stoke, however – and on the back of conceding 11 in their previous four games, restricted the visitors to snatched efforts and no chance to pounce in second phases at corners.

Defenders took responsibility for winning headers and Jack Butland showed authority in the penalty area.

“Jack came for a lot,” said Michael O’Neill. “His starting positions were excellent for set pieces and long throws as well. They’ve scored a lot from those situations, perhaps more than anyone else in the Championship, so we had to really defend against that and we did.”

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Night and day

Joe Allen, Stoke’s second goalscorer against Cardiff, says there is no comparison between the club’s home form now and earlier in the season under Nathan Jones.

And Allen agrees that Stoke’s survival could hinge on the number of points they gather in their remaining five home games.

Stoke picked up just four points from seven home games under Jones, while under Michael O’Neill it is now 20 points from 10.

“Generally, home form is the key, whether you’re at the top end or the bottom end,” said Allen.

“Our home form is night and day different compared to the start of the season and bar the disappointment of the Preston defeat, I think we are making it very difficult for teams when they come here.”

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Rovers return?

Blackburn Rovers are hoping to get one of their key men back ahead of Wednesday night’s clash with Stoke City.

Rovers are eyeing a playoff push after moving within five points of the top six with a surprise away win over Brentford on Saturday.

During the week, they will welcome a Stoke side who themselves came out on top on Saturday, beating an in-form Cardiff comfortably at home.

And Rovers are hoping to be helped by the return of midfielder Joe Rothwell ahead of the game.

“The plan is that he’s going to train on Monday and then we’ll see how he comes through that,” Rovers boss Tony Mowbray told the Lancashire Telegraph.

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