Stoke City striker Sam Vokes has discussed the effect that Michael O’Neill has had at the club since his November appointment.
It was Nathan Jones who started the season as Stoke City manager. His side were expected to be right up there in the Championship table this season but after a dismal start to it, he was sacked, and replaced with Northern Ireland manager O’Neill.
In the six months since his appointment, O’Neill has managed to pull Stoke away from the relegation zone and took a four game unbeaten run into the temporary halt – the last being a 5-1 win at home Hull City.
O’Neill has since stepped down from his international duties to focus on the task at Stoke, and speaking in Sky Sports’ ‘At home with’ podcast, Vokes alongside teammate Danny Batth outlined the changes that have occurred under O’Neill:
“It felt like we were turning in a different direction and a lot changed when Michael O’Neill took over”, explained Vokes. “It’s been well-documented that we had a slow start to the season, especially for the squad we had, and we didn’t perform to our capabilities.
“It was a tough task to get that first win and it didn’t come until October. When Michael came in, it changed a lot and we started to play to our strengths, which showed in our performances and also the results that started to come.”
Stoke’s 2-1 win at Swansea back in October was their first in the Championship this season. It came a month prior to O’Neill’s appointment and despite it being followed up by a 2-0 win over Fulham, Jones couldn’t retain his post at Stoke for much longer.
In O’Neill’s 23 games in charge of the club so far he’s managed 10 wins. Stoke look a completely different side under him, in what is his first job outside of Ireland.
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“It’s not just on the pitch; I think there has to be a togetherness in the dressing room and I feel like we’ve got that at Stoke,” explained Vokes, who joined Stoke in January 2019 at the same time as Batth.
“Since myself and Danny came in I think there has been that transition period, everything has knitted together in the last six months and there’s a close group of team-mates and friends.
“That’s what’s important in building a promotion campaign. We know we had the sticky start to this season but, going forward, there’s nothing to say we can’t compete at the other end of the table next season.”
Next season is destined to be a much more prosperous one for Stoke. They’re still a way to go before they’re challenging at the top again but should they have an efficient transfer window, then they could certainly be in the mix.
Although Vokes has struggled with just four goals this season, he’s looked a lot better under O’Neill. That can be said for most of their squad though, and the halt in the football came at a really bad time for them.
There’s nine games left of the season and with a 14-point gap to the top-six, that feat will likely have to wait until next season. But the signs are good for Stoke, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare in O’Neill’s first full season in charge.