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Michael O'Neill sets points target for Stoke survival after heavy Leeds defeat

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Michael O'Neill was far from happy after his side's loss to Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United.

Michael O'Neill was far from happy after his side's loss to Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United.

PA

Michael O'Neill was far from happy after his side's loss to Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United.

Michael O'Neill knows he faces a a mammoth 10 day period as he bids to save his Stoke City side from relegation.

The former Northern Ireland manager could only watch on as Championship leaders Leeds United, featuring the hugely impressive Stuart Dallas, dismantled his team 5-0 in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Thursday.

It means City have now picked up just four points from five matches since the Championship got back into action last month and sit just one place and one point above the three-team relegation zone.

After this Sunday's home game against fellow strugglers Birmingham City, Stoke's last three games of the season are against teams currently in the top half of the division.

He knows, then, that this weekend's fixture could have a huge bearing on where the side spend next season as he sets his target for survival.

“We have to believe that we can stay up. We probably need two wins and we have to do everything we can to get that," he said after the defeat to Leeds.

O'Neill is equally well aware that an upturn in performance is required from the midweek showing at Elland Road.

“I think people have overestimated what is the strength of this squad but we saw the difference between a team at the top of the league and pushing for the prize of promotion and a team that for two seasons has been basically in the bottom end of the table," he fumed.

“We’re a long, long way from where we need to be.”

O'Neill task hasn't been helped by the long-term absence of captain Ryan Shawcross, who is back on the sidelines after starting his fourth and fifth league games of the season following the restart.

“Unfortunately we can’t bring leaders into the group, they’re either there or they’re not," he said of his options for the remainder of the campaign.

"The problems that exist in our team, they have existed long before now. We finished 16th last season and for most of this season we have barely been out of the bottom three.

“So, that tells you the situation we are in. I think it is a poor reflection probably on the money that has been invested in this team.”

Belfast Telegraph