Stoke City‘s fall from grace, and the promotion picture, last season almost directly coincided with Harry Souttar picking up a long term injury on international duty with Australia.
The towering centre back will have one eye on being fit for the World Cup later this year, but there is still a way to go in his recovery process before first team action can be considered.
The 23-year-old was one of the most impressive centre backs in the Championship in the opening months of the campaign, and may well have moved on to a Premier League club in January if it was not for the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered.
Michael O’Neill provided a significant update on the timeline of Souttar’s return to first team training when he spoke to StokeonTrentLive.
He said: “We had to step Harry’s rehab back a little bit so he’s not at that point where he’s close to joining in training at this minute in time.
“Harry is working extremely hard.
“You can tell he’s desperate to get back out on the grass because he’s spent so long working in the gym and everything doing all that type of rehab work which can get monotonous.
“We’re hopeful we can see him back on the grass in the next week or two.”
The Potters will be desperate to improve on last season’s showing, and Souttar’s recovery feels crucial to give them a solid base to build from.
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O’Neill is under pressure in the dugout at the bet365 Stadium and it feels like only a top six finish will convince the board to offer him a new contract, with his current one expiring in the summer of 2023.
Stoke have spent a lot of money since their relegation from the Premier League, and have been forced to alter their approach, financially, heading into their fifth consecutive season in the second tier.
Aden Flint and Harry Clarke have joined the defensive contingent already this summer, with Phil Jagielka and Ben Wilmot still in place from last season.
It will be interesting to see if O’ Neill moves away from three at the back in pursuit of better fortunes than in 2021/22.