How Michael O’Neill is turning Stoke City around and setting them up for a promotion push next season

Graham Ruthven by Graham Ruthven / 12 March 2020, 11:41

Michael O’Neill earned himself a reputation as a footballing miracle worker over eight years as Northern Ireland manager. 

Indeed, under his charge the country have punched well above its weight, qualifying for and then reaching the knockout stages of the 2016 European Championships, also coming within a play-off game of making the 2018 World Cup. He still has the chance to secure a spot at Euro 2020 via the play-offs.

This qualified the 50-year-old as the best man for the Stoke City job, with O’Neill taking over at the bet365 Stadium in November. At the time, the Potters found themselves bottom of the Championship after a dreadful start to the 2019/20 season, but under O’Neill they have moved away from danger and are building for the future again. 

Here’s a look at how he’s done it...

What has O’Neill changed?

Stoke City were struggling for goals before the appointment of Michael O’Neill, scoring just 13 times in 15 matches. However, Stoke’s form since their 16th game of the season would have them as high as sixth in the Championship table, scoring no fewer than 36 times since that point. Only Leeds and Brentford have scored more over that period.

Like so many Championship teams this season, Stoke have struggled to find a true goalscorer to lead the line. Lee Gregory, Sam Vokes, Tyrese Campbell and Mame Diouf have all been used in attack, but have struggled to make the position their own. O’Neill’s midfield has raised their game to contribute to the goal tally, though.

Joe Allen, Sam Clucas and Nick Powell have all carried a genuine goal threat with James McClean also chipping in with four goals over the course of the campaign. 

O’Neill likes to paint himself as an attack-minded coach and his start at Stoke supports this notion, particularity with the 5-1 thumping of Hull City still fresh in the memory.

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What can O’Neill achieve at Stoke?

Stoke perilous situation at the time of O’Neill’s arrival at the club in November meant that this season was only ever going to be about avoiding relegation to League One. 

With Stoke winning two and drawing two of their last four games, lifting themselves to 17th place in the Championship table, the Northern Irishman is some way towards achieving his objective.

However, O’Neill is giving the Potters a basis upon which they could feasibly build a promotion push next season. 

Stoke have claimed 1.55 points per match since O’Neill arrived. Over the course of a full Championship season that would put them on 71 points, which would maybe even be enough to put them in the top-six.

As already referenced, Stoke lack a truly reliable goalscorer to lead the line and so O’Neill will surely prioritise the signing of such a figure when the summer transfer window opens. 

The Potters’ squad was always better than their early season league position suggested and now O’Neill is getting the sort of performances many expected of them before the 2019/20 campaign. 

In the likes of Allen, Clucas, Jack Butland, Liam Lindsay and a few others, though, O’Neill has a lot to work with in forging a team that can at least challenge for a play-off place next season. 

The early signs are that this is a union that will sooner or later bring better times back to the bet365 Stadium.

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