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Doom merchants among Potters fans will be proven wrong

Nathan Jones
Nathan Jones
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The world of a football supporter can often be a blinding bubble.

Following your club is a way of life rather than a mere hobby.

But when it becomes so all-consuming, the bigger picture can become obscured or even lost altogether.

It's for that reason that I don't blame the section of Stoke supporters who aren't tripping over themselves in excitement over the appointment of Michael O'Neill as new manager.

There has been a mixed reaction to the 50-year-old's arrival, with some fans warning of a potential for negative tactics and others bemoaning a lack of experience in club football.

One supporter on social media even likened the appointment to hiring an apprentice rather than a seasoned professional.

But we have to take into account the situation those fans find themselves in. The Potters are bottom of the Championship with only eight points from 15 matches. Their team has conceded more than twice the number of goals they've scored, which led to the sacking of Nathan Jones.

The sheer misery of living that as a fan is betrayed by merely trotting out the statistics. The reality is that these supporters have already sat through 11 league defeats.

As a result, some supporters are able to view O'Neill's appointment only through that positivity-free prism.

All of a sudden the words of the Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman ring round. Michael O'Neill's team was "terrible to watch" and the manager displayed "outrageous" tactics. "Terrible".

What's lost on these supporters is the fact that these were the words of a manager in full knowledge that his star-studded Netherlands team had dodged a bullet with three late goals to beat O'Neill's well-organised Northern Ireland 3-1 at home.

In fact, worries over O'Neill's tactical nous are misinformed.

While the early years brought a familiar, backs-to-the-wall style of Northern Ireland performance, he has taken it upon himself to revolutionise a footballing culture.

The new Northern Ireland team is an exciting, high-pressing, quick-passing machine.

O'Neill is closer to a tactical daredevil than a "new Tony Pulis" - another way he was described online.

He has brought Northern Ireland up around 100 places in the world rankings since taking the hotseat at Windsor Park, qualified for the Euro 2016 knockouts and missed out on a World Cup place only via a contentious play-off defeat to Switzerland.

However, even those achievements can be turned into a negative through a struggling supporter's tinted glasses.

All of a sudden, the only significance of those eight years is that they have robbed O'Neill of vital day-to-day club duty.

The reality, once again, is different.

By coaxing the likes of Jamal Lewis, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, George Saville and Jordan Jones into the squad, O'Neill has a recruitment record any Championship manager would be proud of.

The world of a Stoke supporter may be all gloom on O'Neill's arrival but over this side of the Irish Sea, we bet that they have the right man to make that football bubble a brighter place.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph