Stoke City have been treading water in the Championship under the tenure of Michael O’Neill, but have shown signs at the start of the 2021/2022 campaign that they could finally be ready to mount a challenge to return to the Premier League.
The Potters were relegated from the top flight in 2018 after a ten-year tenure, and many believed that the club was capable of making an immediate return. However, it failed to come to fruition as Gary Rowett and then Nathan Jones struggled in the dugout. O’Neill didn’t make a huge impact upon his initial arrival but has steadied the ship amid a turnover of players in the squad.
The Potters have now rounded their team into shape and are now one of the leading contenders in the English Football League Championship betting odds to win promotion at 12/1, although it will be worth monitoring the Championship betting tips to ensure that their promising start isn’t a false dawn in Staffordshire. There are encouraging signs that O’Neill is the man to return Stoke to the Premier League as he has placed importance on backing players with potential at the club in key positions.
Josef Bursik is one of the most notable players that has taken on the mantle in the early stages of the term. Bursik was farmed out on loan at a number of League One clubs in the last campaign, impressing Peterborough United in their surge for promotion before starring for Lincoln in the playoffs as an emergency loan in their win over Sunderland.
The 21-year-old has improved leaps and bounds since earning 15 appearances for the Potters last term and has ensured that he’s locked down the position between the posts. As an England Under-21 international, Bursik has a very bright future ahead of him, and the Potters will be hoping that will be for them in the top flight.
The backline is also flooded with great prospects with Ben Wilmot, Leo Ostigard and Harry Souttar in place. It’s a bold decision to play so many players in their early 20s in defence, but O’Neill has reaped the rewards thus far. Souttar, like Bursik, has cut his teeth in League One and hasn’t been overawed by the standard of the Championship, thriving with the captain’s armband against Huddersfield Town.
Wilmot was a savvy signing from Watford, who opted to allow the 21-year-old to leave despite playing a key role in their promotion campaign last year. Ostigard completes the trifecta of a three-man backline in front of Bursik, having joined on loan from Brighton.
There’ll no doubt be growing pains along the way in the campaign, but there’s hope that these players can develop as a unit. It could benefit the Potters in the short term in the Championship in their hopes of breaking out of the division, but also their future down the line in cultivating a key core of talented players.
There’s enough firepower at the other end of the field to ease the burden on the backline, meaning there’s not overwhelming pressure on them to deliver on a weekly basis. Therefore, O’Neill has time to be patient and allow what could be the foundation of the team for years to come to build over the course of the campaign.