Watch: Michael O'Neill's Stoke revival starts with big win at Barnsley as Sam Clucas scores from halfway line
One game in and the midas touch that Michael O’Neill brought so wonderfully to Northern Ireland is already being felt at Stoke City.
The Potters scored four goals in a league game for the first time since they beat Everton 4-3 in December 2015 as they won 4-2 at Barnsley to lift themselves off bottom spot in the Championship.
Two of the goals came from the outstanding Sam Clucas, with Lee Gregory and captain Joe Allen also on target for O’Neill’s new side.
The win lifted Stoke off the bottom of the Championship table, above Barnsley and to within three points of safety.
It was the perfect start, warmly appreciated by the travelling 2,600 fans, who sang O’Neill’s name from kick-off.
Those fans had started the afternoon to the tune of The Great Escape. When Clucas’s fourth hit the net, some were doing the conga in the stands.
Under O’Neill, it was only ever going to get better for Stoke, but few could have predicted such an instant impact.
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It has been a bleak time for The Potters, relegated after a decade in the Premiership in May 2018.
A dismal start to this season led to the departure of Nathan Jones - and a call to the Irish FA during the week.
And it wasn’t long before the fans - and O’Neill - were celebrating.
Just eight minutes were gone when a poor clearance from Brad Collins went straight to Clucas, who was on the halfway line.
With Collins out of position, the midfielder aimed for goal, lifting his left-foot effort straight back over the stranded keeper’s head.
The Stoke players rushed to the away end, where the visiting fans celebrated wildly.
As the sound of The Great Escape came from the travelling support, Stoke pushed for more.
In the 14th minute Tom Ince slipped in James McClean, who hammered a left-foot effort at goal, but Collins blocked well.
Stoke did get their second in the 30th minute.
It came via a penalty after McClean drove into the box, drawing a foul from Barnsley midfielder Alex Mowatt.
From the spot, Gregory confidently rolled his kick to the left of the goalkeeper.
On the touchline, O’Neill gave a short, muted punch of the air.
Already Stoke were showing some of the characteristics so familiar with O’Neill teams.
They had a structure and shape to their game, defending well.
Barnsley had just one effort on target in the first half, with Jack Butland saving easily from Cauley Woodrow.
In midfield Clucas, his goal aside, was a real handful for Stoke, while Allen, once of Liverpool, dashed around, chasing the ball.
It was Allen’s pass that nearly provided the third goal for Ince, but his right-foot shot was saved.
However, Stoke’s grip on the match slipped when they conceded two minutes into the second half.
Sub Luke Thomas provided the assist, slipping in Cameron McGeehan, who crashed his strike into the roof of the net.
Thomas, a half-time sub, had brought a new threat to Barnsley’s attack.
He had strong shouts for a penalty in the 57th minute after going down under a sliding challenge from Stephen Ward, but it wasn’t given.
Moments later, Stoke went close to a third as McClean teed up Ince, whose volley was saved.
Then, when Gregory was denied by the goalkeeper from a great position, you wondered if they would pay for the missed chances.
However, Allen made it 3-1 in the 65th minute to settle O’Neill’s nerves.
A corner came to the midfielder, who fired in from 10 yards, sparking wild celebrations among the travelling fans.
Stoke had not scored three since December 2017, but it soon got even better.
Clucas made it 4-1 in the 68th minute, capping a superb individual display with a powerful effort from 25 yards.
Barnsley pulled one back in the 82nd minute as a through ball found sub Patrick Schmidt, who scored with his first touch.
BARNSLEY: Collins, Cavare, Diaby, Halme, Sibbick (Thomas, 46), Brown (Schmidt, 81), Dougall, Mowatt, McGeehan (Wilks, 75), Woodrow, Chaplin
Subs: Radlinger, Andersen, Oduor, Simoes.
STOKE: Butland, Edwards, Ward, Allen, Batth, Ince (Diouf, 82), McClean, Martins Indi, Gregory (Vokes, 90), Clucas (Badou, 73), Woods
Subs: Federici, Carter-Vickers, Powell, Campbell
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Belfast Telegraph Digital