LONDON: Michael O´Neill made a winning debut as manager of Stoke City on Saturday with a 4-2 win over fellow Championship strugglers Barnsley declaring himself delighted with the response of the players.
The 50-year-old — who will remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the remainder of their Euro 2020 campaign — only took charge on Friday but his arrival paid immediate dividends.
Stoke — who spent 10 years in the Premier League before finally slipping out of it in 2018 — approached O´Neill, who has been in charge of Northern Ireland for eight years, after Preston´s Alex Neil turned down the vacancy left by Nathan Jones, who was sacked over a week ago.
A double from Sam Clucas helped them to end a three match losing run and only their third win in 11 league games this term moving them off the bottom of the table.
Their opponents — who are enduring their worst run of league form since 1959 without a win in 15 matches — replace them at the bottom.
“It´s a great start,” O´Neill told BBC Radio.
“I´m delighted with the result because where we are at this moment in time, that´s the key thing.
“But many aspects of the performance were very, very pleasing. We´ve obviously had very little time to work with the players.
“So we had to make a decision to change the system and make some changes in personnel without seeing the players in any great detail, but the response we got was excellent.”
Whilst O´Neill´s priority is preventing Stoke going down to the third tier for the first time since 2001-02 their fellow former Premier League rivals West Bromwich Albion are eying promotion.
A hard-fought 1-0 win over in-form Hull — former England international Jake Livermore firing home against one of his former clubs — pleased charismatic Croatian manager Slaven Bilic.
Victory kept them top of the table, two points clear of Preston North End.
“All in all it was a good performance for us, the only thing that was missing was the second goal,” said Bilic.
“But mainly because of the result, you are suffering until the end of the game because they are taking risks more and more.
“I am very proud of the performance and it was a clean sheet, 1-0, a tough away game, a very tough away game.”
Neil´s decision to remain loyal to Preston looks to have been vindicated certainly at the moment as his side continued to punch above their weight defeating Huddersfield 3-1 — ending their seven match unbeaten run — to lie second.
“The important thing now for us in the coming weeks is to keep momentum going, we have a great run of form going (unbeaten in four and won their last three) and the players are confident,” said Neil.
“The players can be very proud of the run that we are on right now,” added the 38-year-old Scotsman.