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'Players should hang their heads in shame': Michael O'Neill slams Stoke squad after defeat to Wigan

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Michael O'Neill has six crunch matches coming up to help save his side from relegation.

Michael O'Neill has six crunch matches coming up to help save his side from relegation.

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Michael O'Neill has six crunch matches coming up to help save his side from relegation.

Former Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has slammed his Stoke City players after their 3-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday evening.

The result leaves the Potters just a point and two places above the drop zone, with two of the sides below them in the table currently having a game in hand.

A saving grace in their battle to avoid the drop could, conversely, come at the expense of Tuesday's victors as Wigan were, hours later, handed a 12-point deduction after going into administration. That will come into effect providing they stay up before it is taken into account and effectively means Stoke are now a further point and a further place clear of the relegation places.

Regardless, it was his own side's form that was at the forefront of O'Neill's mind.

He took the reins at the club in November, had led his team on an upturn in form with just three defeats from their last 12 league outings before the sporting shutdown.

Since the Championship's return to action though, Stoke have picked up just a single point with their draw at Reading followed up by defeats to fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and mid-table Wigan.

It was the nature of Tuesday's lacklustre performance that riled the boss, who admitted he had a frank discussion with his players in the changing room after the game.

"You have to tell them the truth, which they've been told in no uncertain terms and hopefully they'll react to that," he told BBC Radio Stoke. "At the end of the day, these players are in a very good situation at this club and they owe the club a lot more than they gave tonight.

"I told them they should hang their heads in shame given the level of performance we got tonight."

While O'Neill's ultimate aim is to lead the club back into the Premier League, now he knows the more immediate task is gaining the results required over the final six matches of the season to avoid relegation to League One.

"I knew what was at stake when I came in and I knew the challenge when I came in," he added.

"Given the level of investment in the team and the players, I expected a lot more than what I have seen.

"We streamlined the squad to try and create a better group and a better atmosphere, and I think we did that, but since lockdown we've seen poor results, we've picked one point up from the three games, and tonight we saw an extremely, extremely poor performance.

"We created a lot of our own problems again and there's a naivety about our play given the level of experience that we have in the team as well.

“We were second best all over the pitch (against Wigan) and that’s an individual thing. You have to have the appetite to play, you have to have the courage to play. You have to have the respect for your teammates, respect for your club and we didn’t show any of that tonight.”

Stoke return to the pitch on Saturday afternoon in a game that could scarcely be more significant, as second bottom Barnsley arrive at the bet365 Stadium knowing a win would lift them above O'Neill's men.

Elsewhere, Stuart Dallas helped to spare Leeds' blushes as his equaliser earned a 1-1 draw at home to basement side Luton Town. The result leaves Marcelo Bielsa's side six points clear of the play-off places.

However, it did come at a cost with Dallas likely to miss this weekend's game against Blackburn Rovers with a muscle injury.

Belfast Telegraph