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Michael O'Neill threatens James McClean with extra training to tire him out for Euro 2020 play-off



Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Bongarts/Getty Images

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill has threatened to put James McClean on double sessions in the build-up to a possible All-Ireland Euro 2020 play-off final at Windsor Park.

The Stoke winger was man-of-the-match in O'Neill's first home game in charge of the Potters as they came from behind to beat Wigan 2-1 at the bet365 Stadium.

It was a sight that brought a smile to the manager of Stoke City, but if McClean repeats it for the Republic of Ireland in Belfast in March then it could spell trouble for Northern Ireland's Euro qualification hopes.

"We will probably get him doing double sessions all week or 20 kilometres a day," laughed O'Neill, who otherwise avoided questions on a Euro play-off clash with Mick McCarthy's side.

"To be fair to James, he does that anyway."

McClean won the free-kick that led to Danny Bath poking home a Potters leveller after Sam Morsy had threatened to spoil O'Neill's party with a first-half strike for the visitors.

The Londonderry native put his ex-employers to the sword, particularly in the second-half with a virtuoso performance at times.

O'Neill added: "I have always admired James as a player and he has shown his worth at international level. I thought at Barnsley (4-2 win) he was excellent as well.

"If you simplify the game for James he is very effective and that is what we have tried to do.


Stoke City and Republic of Ireland player James McClean

Stoke City and Republic of Ireland player James McClean

"James put in some great crosses today and he is playing with confidence.

"He will be a player who will be massive for us between now and the end of the season," he added.

O'Neill looked as much relieved as satisfied following back-to-back wins that hoist Stoke to within goal difference of Championship safety.

Striker Mame Diouf scored his first goal since April 2018 in stoppage time to claim all three points to reward second-half dominance and send long-suffering fans home believing O'Neill can bring stability to a club racked with managerial upheaval in recent times.

"It was a difficult game that we anticipated it would be," O'Neill added. "It was probably made a little more difficult than it had to at times.

"I said to the players it is winning games like that that get you out of trouble.

"They showed really good character in the second half and had to deal with a lot. It wasn't pretty but we dug in and it is always great to win so late in the game and it gives the supporters a lift as well."

O'Neill is renowned for his man-management skills and he revealed a half-time heart-to-heart with his players was key to the comeback.

"I told them I will learn more about them in the next 45 minutes than the whole of the rest of the season. I said don't let me down, and they didn't," he said.

"They came out again on the front foot and lifted themselves. There was a lot of positives in the second-half performance.

"Of course, there are aspects of our play that we need to improve. We are not going to fool ourselves that we are the finished article. But that is a game that maybe earlier in the season they would not have done that."

O'Neill said he was not anticipating any further changes to his backroom staff following the arrival of his ex-Northern Ireland assistant Billy McKinlay.

And the Northern Ireland gaffer also played down wholesale additions to his Stoke squad in the January transfer window.

"There is no room in the changing room for any more players," he added.

"We will not be able to bring any players in unless some leave. We had 17 players not starting today - that is too many.

"We just need to manage that situation between now and January then freshen things up. Sometimes players on the periphery can give you as much as a new player."

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Belfast Telegraph