‘The reality’ – Michael O’Neill assesses Stoke City players ahead of relegation run-in



Michael O’Neill admits Stoke City remain in an almighty dogfight at the bottom end of the Championship – but has faith in his players to save the club.

Stoke now face five so-called six-pointer games over the next month, beginning with Hull at home on Saturday (3pm), which could effectively decide their fate before the final five games of the season.

O’Neill is under no illusion about the high stakes, but says he has been braced for the battle ahead since his first day at the club four months ago.

“We weren’t under any illusions when we came in with the team on eight points,” he reflected.

“At that point of the season, with 15 games gone, it meant it wasn’t ever going to be turned around overnight.

“It’s been a dogfight since I came in, to be honest, and we are still in a precarious position.

“The reality is, we weren’t going to get out of this in three months.

“What we have found is that it possibly goes back further than just the start of the season.

“But what I can assure supporters is that we’ve got a group of players that are fighting for their survival in the Championship, a good group of players as well, who are playing under immense pressure.

“But equally, the support they have certainly helps. As long as we are all pulling in one direction, I have every belief that we will finish out of the bottom three.”

Stoke are 12 points shy of the traditional 50-point safety target, and O’Neill added: “The remaining 10 games are all going to be huge. It would be lovely to think we could be out of this situation with a few games to spare.

“That may or may not be the case, but what I do know is that everyone is pulling in the right direction.

“You certainly saw that in the level of performance at Blackburn, when we were determined not to be beaten by a very good team, and equally against Luton when we did everything possible to get the three points.

“We are in a situation where we have to continue to believe we will get out of it – I certainly believe in the group of players we have.”

Stoke will be entertaining a Hull side that has taken just two points from a possible 30 since New Year’s Day.

“They’ve had a difficult time of it in the last few weeks,” O’Neill acknowledged, “but our focus has to continually be on ourselves and our level of performance, and it will be.

“I think our home form has been very good. We have to maintain that and obviously take the three points.

“There’s another seven or eight teams in it, Wigan are on an extremely good run, but the focus has to be on ourselves and the remaining 10 games.”





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