Sky Sports pundit Andy Hinchcliffe has admitted that he would be surprised if Stoke City are not in contention for a top-six finish this season.
The Potters have managed to make an incredibly encouraging start to the 2021/22 campaign under the guidance of manager Michael O’Neill.
Currently fourth in the Championship standings, Stoke managed to send out a real signal of intent to the rest of the league by beating West Bromwich Albion last Friday.
The Potters squandered the chance to open the scoring in the 71st minute of this particular fixture as Sam Surridge’s penalty was saved by Sam Johnstone.
Undeterred by this particular setback, Stoke sealed all three points via a superb strike from Nick Powell.
With the Potters set to face Sheffield United later this month, it will be intriguing to see whether they are able to deliver another impressive performance in this showdown.
Making reference to Stoke, Hinchcliffe has revealed that he believes that the club will be in contention for a play-off place this season.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Sky Sports EFL Podcast about the Potters, the former Manchester City defender said: “It is not as if it’s kind of nine players and then two stars who can win games for you, they are a really solid team on and off the ball.
“And at any level of the game, certainly in the Championship, that will take you an awful long way so they’ve got some star quality but they’ve also got really dependable defenders, a solid goalkeeper and a lot of experience there but I do think now it’s the expectation.
“It’s whether those players can cope with it, I’m looking at what a lot of those players have been through at other clubs and I’ll be surprised if they fell short in terms of getting the job done.
“They really have to be looking at top-six now.
“There’s still a long way to go but as I say with the formation, the balance of the team and the experience with Michael O’Neill driving them forward, I will be surprised if they finish outside of the top-six.”
It is hard to disagree with Hinchcliffe’s stance on Stoke as the club finally seem to be heading in the right direction under O’Neill.
The Potters have amassed 21 points from 11 games and will unquestionably fancy their chances of pushing on in the second-tier after the international break.
Providing that Powell is able to maintain his fitness in the coming months, he could potentially help his side launch a bid for a play-off place as he has been a stand-out performer in the Championship this season.
As well as scoring five goals in seven league appearances for Stoke, the midfielder has recorded an impressive WhoScored match rating of 7.40 in the second-tier.