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Manager Michael O’Neill has put together a strong squad of players that have taken to his methods in impressive fashion at the start of the new season.
After disappointing bottom-half finishes in their three years since relegation from the Premier League, the Potters have finally managed to recover and rebuild, and appear revitalised with a new lease of life at the beginning of the 2021-22 campaign.
Six wins from the opening 12 league fixtures leave City in fifth place heading into Tuesday’s fixture against a fellow promotion-hopeful, with a playoff spot surely being the minimum aim come May after this start.
One of the key reasons for the early success is the return of the bet365 Stadium fortress, after it caused so many problems throughout the years during their stay in the Premier League, but had lost its fear factor during the disappointing recent years.
Five wins and a draw from the six matches on home soil so far mean that the fear factor has returned for opponents visiting Stoke, and with victories over the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town there already, O’Neill will be looking for an intense atmosphere to continue when Bournemouth visit on Tuesday.
However, after a strong run of form had lifted Stoke into the playoffs before the international break, O’Neill’s side did suffer a minor setback at the weekend, when they threw away a 1-0 lead in the final 10 minutes at fellow promotion-chasers Sheffield United.
After wrestling back control of possession during a fairly even encounter, Jacob Brown‘s second-half goal had Stoke rising to third in the table, before a late fightback from their hosts condemned them to just their third league defeat of the season.
The young duo of Jordan Zemura and Jaidon Anthony down their left-hand side have been a revelation, with the former netting his third goal of the season at the weekend from the full-back position.
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That goal arrived in a 2-0 win at Bristol City, in what was an extremely comfortable victory for the visitors after dominating possession – 74% – and attempting 22 shots on goal compared to just the five from their opponents.
Jamal Lowe had opened the scoring earlier in the first half, with the result extending Bournemouth’s unbeaten start to the Championship season to 12 matches, which leaves them three points clear at the summit already.
Parker knows his side will have to replicate this form against a strong outfit in midweek, one that they have actually defeated four times in their last six meetings.