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In unorthodox fashion, Cork City will push their competitive exploits to one side this weekend as Stoke arrive for an exhibition encounter, and Colin Healy‘s side may be frustrated not to have the chance to keep their remarkable domestic run going.
The 2017 national champions have not lost in any competition since a 1-0 defeat to Galway United at home back in February, with Healy since overseeing a 20-game unbeaten run in all tournaments, including 14 wins in the First Division.
The Rebel Army have come up trumps in each of their last three league encounters and ran out convincing 3-1 winners over Bray Wanderers in their most recent battle, as Cian Murphy, Ruairi Keating and Jonas Hakkinen struck for the league leaders.
Healy’s side find themselves one point clear of Galway United at the top of the standings as they endeavour to secure a return to the Premier Division following their 2020 relegation, and Healy will not want to see their momentum disrupted versus more revered opposition this weekend.
Since dropping down from the Premier League in the 2017-18 season, Stoke had followed a pattern of finishing one better than the previous season in the Championship, posting 16th, 15th and 14th-placed finishes up to the 2021-22 season.
However, Michael O’Neill‘s side were forced to accept 14th best again last season, despite ending the term with a respectable five wins from their final nine matches, and a plethora of changes have occurred within the ranks at the bet365 Stadium.
The likes of Joe Allen, Tom Ince, Benik Afobe and Steven Fletcher have all ended their stints with the Potters, making way for new blood in Liam McCarron, Aden Flint and Josh Laurent, while Arsenal’s Harry Clarke and Bournemouth’s Gavin Kilkenny have also penned loan deals
Ally Gilchrist has also recovered from a hamstring strain, while Matthew Healy was also fit enough to come off the bench last Friday, but Gordon Walker and Joe O’Brien Whitmarsh are still absent.
Even with little on the line, Healy ought to put out a near full-strength side given the calibre of opposition, as top scorers Murphy and Keating spearhead the attack.
As for Stoke, O’Neill will likely consider handing his quintet of new arrivals their friendly debuts for the club this weekend, with Clarke poised to take the place of Harry Souttar.
The 23-year-old is still recovering from the devastating cruciate ligament rupture he sustained last year, and a knee injury means that Nick Powell has not made the journey either.
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The Potters are otherwise well-stocked for their first pre-season friendly, as Phil Jagielka prepares to marshal the backline one month before his 40th birthday.
Cork City possible starting lineup:
Harrington; O’Connor, Honohan, Hakkinen; Bargary, Bolger, Coffey, Coleman, Doona; Keating, Murphy
Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Bursik; Duhaney, Clarke, Jagielka, Flint, Tymon; Kilkenny, Baker, Laurent; Campbell, Brown