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O'Neill already has Stoke full of belief, say players

 

Flying start: Michael O’Neill enjoys debut Stoke victory at Barnsley
Flying start: Michael O’Neill enjoys debut Stoke victory at Barnsley
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

New Stoke boss Michael O'Neill has been backed by his players to transform the team's fortunes - just as he did with Northern Ireland.

O'Neill made a flying start on his return to club management with a 4-2 win at Barnsley on Saturday.

It was only the Potters' third league victory of the season, lifting them off the foot of the Championship.

And afterwards Stoke players spoke of how O'Neill's impact was already evident.

Midfielder Sam Clucas, who scored twice, said: "He has just given us a lot of confidence, said what a great team we are and that we need to start showing it."

Lee Gregory and Joe Allen also scored at Oakwell as Stoke climbed to within three points of safety.

Clucas said there is plenty of work for O'Neill to do - but admitted it was a great start.

"He told us to go out there and enjoy it and get on the ball and be solid, and I thought we did that," he added.

"It's good to get the three points but we can't get ahead of ourselves because we've been in this place before where we've won and then lost some games we really shouldn't have.

"Hopefully we can get a bit of confidence from this and, moving forward, can take some positives."

O'Neill, who now takes charge of Northern Ireland's last two Euro 2020 qualifiers, only finalised his move to Stoke on Friday.

The 50-year-old agreed a four-year deal that will see him double his salary to £1.5m.

O’Neill, who famously led Northern Ireland to their first major tournament in 30 years at Euro 2016, succeeds Nathan Jones, who was sacked on November 1 after a dismal start to the season by Stoke.

Midfielder Ryan Woods believes O’Neill can repeat what he has achieved at international level at Stoke.

“He has done an amazing job with Northern Ireland, and he still will do for the next two games,” he said.

“Since he has come in he has given us simple information, and I think that’s what we needed.

“We needed someone to break it down, show us exactly what we needed to do, and I think we have done that.

“Again, there are improvements to be made, but we’ll get there.

“He seems a really good man to work for and hopefully he can get the best out of all of us.”

Saturday’s game completed a whirlwind 24 hours for O’Neill.

After meeting the Stoke players and taking training on Friday, he was in the dugout at Oakwell  the following afternoon.

O’Neill admitted that he had thought about leaving caretakers Rory Delap and Kevin Russell in charge on Saturday, but felt there was too much at stake.

“There was a temptation and for stress levels it probably would have been the better option,” he said.

“I just felt the game was too important. We couldn’t drift.

“Coming into the international break, it would have been like, ‘I’m the manager but I’m not really starting until we come back after the internationals’. I didn’t want that.

“I wanted the opportunity to leave some stamp, and show that the team had got my imprint over it, and I think we got that today.

“It was a risk but I felt it was a risk worth taking.

“I’m delighted with the response I got from the players, having basically just got to know them in the last 24 hours.”

O’Neill will take training at Stoke this morning before heading to Belfast later today to team up with the Northern Ireland squad.

They play the Netherlands At Windsor Park on Saturday night in what could be O’Neill’s last game at the national stadium.

They then complete the qualifying campaign against Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday night, but looks likely to be in March’s play-offs.

O’Neill admits it will be a very different challenge.

“In terms of the opposition, no disrespect to Barnsley, but I have to play Holland and Germany next week,” he added.

“It’s a different type of strategy that you have come up with.”

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