After a frustrating 2-1 loss to Derby County at the weekend, Stoke City will be looking to put that disappointment behind them when they face Premier League side Watford at Vicarage Road tomorrow evening.
Despite this setback against Pride Park, they look like a different team under Michael O’Neill this term after a magnificent summer of transfer business, both in terms of incomings and outgoings.
With this, they were able to reduce some of the pressure on their wage bill and have the funds to lure Sam Surridge away from AFC Bournemouth for a sizeable £5.5m fee.
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A fee of this magnitude has rarely been seen in the Championship during Covid times – but they now look like a well-balanced team and still sit in fifth place despite their recent loss in the East Midlands.
They have also progressed through to the third round of the Carabao Cup, beating League One clubs Fleetwood Town and Doncaster Rovers thus far but face a far harder test in Hertfordshire tomorrow night.
The Hornets were promoted to the top flight last season after finishing second under Xisco Munoz and have strengthened considerably during the summer, bringing in several players including Stoke’s Oghenekaro Etebo, with Ben Wilmot travelling the other way on a permanent deal slightly earlier in the previous transfer window.
But will Wilmot start against his former side? We have selected our predicted Stoke City lineup to start at Vicarage Road this midweek.
Michael O’Neill could switch up the system seeing as this is just a Carabao Cup tie, but if you can get some of the fringe players involved and embedded in the first-team system, it will make it much easier for them to adapt if and when they’re called upon with injuries and suspensions.
In goal, it has to be Adam Davies. You could argue Josef Bursik should be getting as much game time as possible to build his confidence with a lack of experience in the Championship – but to keep the whole squad happy including Welsh international Davies – it would probably be wise to start the 29-year-old.
Ben Wilmot also comes in to face his former club – and could be a useful asset to have on the pitch after spending three years at Vicarage Road. He lines up alongside Danny Batth and James Chester, who come in for Leo Ostigard and Harry Souttar. Is that the best idea against a Premier League side? Maybe not, but the Potters need to focus on remaining in the play-offs.
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Tom Ince also starts again to become more accustomed to the right wing-back position in the absence of Tommy Smith, with Alfie Doughty coming in on the left and Demeaco Duhaney potentially coming on as a substitute for one of the two at some point.
Romaine Sawyers also drops out for Northern Ireland international Jordan Thompson – and Mario Vrancic also gets a rest to allow Nick Powell to get a run out. The latter managed to get 30 minutes at Pride Park on his return from Derby, so he could potentially get the all-clear to start this one and Sam Clucas lines up alongside him looking to get back into top form.
Another man who should get a chance to make an impact in this game is Jacob Brown. He has recorded four goal contributions in eight Championship games so far this season – and he could be a threat alongside a bigger physical presence in Sam Surridge up top. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the duo get themselves on the scoresheet tomorrow night.
Predicted Substitutes: Bonham, Souttar, Duhaney, Allen, Vrancic, Sima, Norton