Stoke City are facing a crucial period over the next few months in the run-up to the New Year and it is a period in the campaign that could well define where they end up in May.
The Potters, on goal difference, are now out of the play-off places after they have three successive defeats against Sheffield United, Bournemouth and Millwall.
That comes after Michael O’Neill’s side had lost just two of their opening 11 league matches to establish themselves in the top-six.
A fourth defeat in a row in all competitions was handed to Stoke by Brentford in the Last 16 of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night as well, but that game saw hope for the Potters with Tyrese Campbell and Abdallah Sima getting minutes under their belt as they return from injury setbacks.
A lot of focus and attention has rightly been placed on Campbell’s return to action for Stoke, with the forward capable of enhancing the Potters’ quality in the final third dramatically if he can get back to the sort of form he was in prior to his long-term injury lay-off.
However, Sima’s return to action is also something that could be very positive for O’Neill’s side.
The 20-year-old arrived on a season-long loan deal from Brighton in the summer to get some vital experience under his belt in English football. That came after he joined the Seagulls for around £6 million with a burgeoning reputation after he fired in 11 league goals in 21 appearances for Slavia Prague last term.
However, Sima’s impact and game time so far at Stoke has been limited due to him suffering with a troublesome ankle injury.
That had seen the 20-year-old only able to make two appearances in the Championship against Derby County and Barnsley and one in the League Cup against Watford.
He returned to action for Stoke against Brentford on Wednesday with him coming off the bench with 27 minutes to go as the Potters searched for a route back into the contest.
This next few weeks is a chance for Sima to try and establish himself in Stoke’s starting line-up in the Championship. Considering that Stoke have endured their first major dip in form in the league this term, it could be time for O’Neill to hand the 20-year-old the chance to show what he can do with a run in the side.
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There is no doubt that Sima has the potential and the natural attributes to suggest that he could be a major attacking force for Stoke if he comes into the side and keeps himself injury-free.
However, Brighton manager Graham Potter has suggested that the Seagulls could look into recalling some of their loan players from their loan clubs in the winter window.
That of course includes Sima and if stoke do not start playing him then there is a chance that he might be recalled prematurely before he is able to show what he can do.
O’Neill should not allow a player with Sima’s quality to just be recalled by Brighton in January without giving him a proper run in the side. So, the next few weeks could be a major chance for the 20-year-old to impress.