Six pointer at the Bet365
It’s a common hackneyed phrase nowadays, for teams battling relegation, of the importance of taking points off the teams around them in the table. In Stoke city’s case and as far as relegation from The Championship is concerned, Charlton Athletic are around them and can be considered near neighbours. They are just up the street in 19th position and above the Potters by two points on 33.
This fact will not be lost on Michael O’ Neill and his players as they bid to atone for the 4-0 defeat to Derby County last weekend when they take on the Addicks at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday. A win on Saturday could see the Northern Irishman’s team leapfrog their London opponents, supplant them in their place in the table and move a step closer to safety.
O’ Neill, like every manager, is aware that every team has a short-term lease in any league. Rent is paid in points. Wins and draws make sure a team meets the annual payment and guaranteed tenure for another season.
Forthcoming games, in the run in to the season, against teams in Stoke City’s neighbourhood like Charlton Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Hull City, Reading, Barnsley, Birmingham City and Luton Town will have to treated like cup finals. If Stoke can capitalise against those teams, the chances are they will remain in the Championship. If they can’t, then the trap door to League One and a move to whole new outlying suburb called League One will become a reality. The Premier League remains City Centre, Downtown, where the lights shine brightest, where everyone wants to go and where Stoke resided until 2018. Avoid relegation this season and O’ Neill can start building in earnest to make a move back to the most desirable location in British football where Tony Pulis brought the Potters in 2008 before moving out two seasons ago. The rent wasn’t met.
The form book would suggest that the home team are favourites for Saturday’s game after taking 10 points out of the last 15 available with three wins and a draw before the Derby defeat. Charlton, under Lee Bowyer, are struggling and have lost two, drawn two and won just one of their last five games. Most tellingly, they won last weekend against Barnsley, a team around both.
O’Neill’s impact in his first 14 games, prior to the Derby game, was such that if the season had started when he took over in November, Stoke would be in fourth position. He inherited a team six points off safety at the bottom of the league and now they are seven points clear of bottom team Luton Town. However they remain just two points off third from bottom Wigan Athletic. The relegation battle is entering into its most crucial phase and three points on Saturday is a necessity for the home team.
In team news, Stoke have signed James Chester from Aston Villa and the 31 year-old Welsh international defender has appeared just twice for Villa this season, in cup ties in mid- December and on January 4. It might be too early to mark him down on the starting team sheet.
O’Neill has also signed youngster Taskan Oakley-Boothe from Tottenham Hotspur on a three-and-a-half year contract.
Charlton have signed experienced winger Aiden McGeady on loan from Sunderland and the Irish international will be a threat if picked by Lee Bowyer for the Addicks on Saturday. Speaking at the pre-match press conference Bowyer said; “No game is bigger than the one before or the one after it. They’re all big games and no will give you points in this division. It’s hard because, again, we’re going to a team like Stoke who are littered with Premier League players.
“They’re not going to give us three points, we’re going to have to work hard for it. If we do that, compete, do what we’re good at and move the ball quickly then we will always have a chance. We’ve got people up top who can hurt teams. So, as long as we do the other side of the game well then we have got a good chance of winning.”
Stoke will have to be wary of Charlton strike pairing of Lyle Taylor and Andre Green who both scored last weekend against Barnsley.
Speaking after the Derby defeat O’ Neill said; “The squad we have is strong enough to keep us in the division, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
He expressed his views on the loss; “I’m very disappointed with the result and very disappointed with the performance”.
It was O’ Neill’s former Northern Ireland team mate Iain Dowie who coined the term Bouncebackability in the 2003-04 season when describing how his Crystal Palace team had gone from the fringes of relegation in December to winning promotion through the play-offs in May. No one is expecting Stoke to come anywhere near matching that performance but if they can muster up a sufficient measure of “Bounceback” after the Derby jolt, they should have enough in the tank to secure three more valuable points on Saturday. That would mean one step closer to a coveted new lease for next season in the same location. O’Neill and Stoke fans would accept that gladly.