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Thursday 21 November 2019

Time not on O'Neill's side to save Stoke's status

James McClean
James McClean

Michael O'Neill is a man used to getting things done, once he is given the time to get his feet under the table.

In only his second season in charge at Shamrock Rovers, he led them to a Premier Division title.

His second campaign with Northern Ireland saw them qualify for the European Championship finals for the first time in their history,

He was given time and space with both posts to go on and make that impact but time is not a luxury he has at Stoke City, O'Neill in charge of the side for the first time today after his exit from the IFA was confirmed.

If results go a certain way today for Stoke, who are away to Barnsley, they could be nine points away from safety, not an impossible gap to reach but a difficult one all the same.

And O'Neill knows that the impact has to be immediate: that's why instead of the standard way of a new manager arriving at a club late in the week and watching the game from the stands while the caretaker (Rory Delap, in this case) mans the dugout, O'Neill will be in charge from the off.

Important

"It's too important a game to do that," he said when asked about delaying that dugout takeover.

Stoke have been dismal this season, the spend on players in no way matched by their contributions on the field and some fans already feel this is a lost cause, a highly-paid but under-achieving squad looking nothing like a bunch of scrappers ready to give their all to prevent relegation.

O'Neill will be able to do some work on that squad when the transfer window opens and it's clear that the squad needs fresh faces.

Advice from former Irish youth cap Andy Cousins, a key part of his scouting network with the North, could be crucial here as Dubliner Cousins has an eye for players and good contacts from his time as an agent.

Apart from the occasional row about players born in the North being poached by the Republic, O'Neill, by and large, managed to avoid being drawn into politics in his time as Northern Ireland manager.

Deal

Today he will have to deal with the prospect of one of his players, James McClean, being roundly booed (and worse) every second he is on the pitch at Barnsley, a consequence of McClean's stance of not wearing a poppy on his shirt.

Challenges at every turn and so little time, but if he pulls this off, keeping Stoke up, it will be some achievement,

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