Could Stoke City's consistent injury problems be their downfall this season?
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11: Harry Souttar of Australia looks dejected as he is stretchered from the field during the FIFA World Cup AFC Asian Qualifier match between the Australia Socceroos and Saudi Arabia at CommBank Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

After struggling in the Championship since their relegation from the top flight in 2018, things are now starting to look up for Stoke City.

After 18 games they are currently sat in fourth, only a point behind third-placed West Bromwich Albion.

Despite this, the number of players that the Potters currently have unavailable through injury must be a cause of concern for the club, as the season goes on there will be the worry that the side runs out of steam and their hopes of promotion will slip away.

Who is unavailable for the Potters?

Over the international break, Michael O'Neill's outfit suffered three more injury setbacks, the most significant being Harry Souttar who will be out for the remainder of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury he picked up while on duty with Australia.

Regular goalkeeper Josef Bursik will be unavailable for around 10 to 12 weeks after suffering a quad problem while with England U21's, meaning Adam Davies will have to fill the void.

Midfielder Jordan Thompson also missed the weekend's win over Peterborough United with a knee injury.

Although, it is hoped that he won't be out of action for too long which will come as good news to Stoke fans considering how consistent and reliable the 24-year-old has been so far this campaign.

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These three players join creative playmaker Nick Powell, who has been out with a cracked fibula since the middle of October and isn't expected to return until around Christmas, alongside Sam Clucas who remains sidelined with a quad injury.

Brighton and Hove Albion loanee Abdallah Sima, who has only featured twice since joining in the summer, is still dealing with a groin problem and Josh Tymon was forced off against the Posh with 23 minutes remaining, the extent of his injury is not yet known.

In positive news, Alfie Doughty may be ready to return to the first team after recovering from a hip problem that has left him out for seven games.

A big boost for O'Neill though was to see the return of Morgan Fox who came on to replace Tymon after not featuring since the opening day of the season.

In his period on the pitch, the former Sheffield Wednesday full-back seemed to settle back comfortably into the left wing-back role to help Stoke see out the game.

This is a huge positive for O'Neill who will look for Fox to fill in for Tymon if he isn't deemed as fit to feature in forthcoming games.

Problems Stoke could face

Despite having a couple of players returning, the injury situation the Potters find themselves in is far from ideal especially considering the busy Christmas period that is fast approaching.

Their big problems at the moment do lie in midfield, in particular with the creative forces that they have available with the opening goalscorer from Saturday Mario Vrancic being the only real attacking midfielder fit in his ranks.

Therefore, if he gets injured in the next coming weeks, with the absence of Powell, Stoke could really find themselves struggling offensively as there would likely to be a lack of service to the likes of Jacob Brown and Steven Fletcher from central positions.

This means that it is instrumental that the former Norwich City man for the foreseeable future is on form and is a regular member of this team.

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Defensively, Stoke are always going to miss a player who has really stepped up this season and shown to be a trustworthy member of the back three.

However, this does open the door for the likes of Danny Batth who took his opportunity against Peterborough, putting in a commanding performance that would have certainly caught the eye of O'Neill.

Despite being forced to play a rotating defence, their showing at the weekend was one to be proud of as the visitors struggled to really break in areas that would cause the back three problems and Davies had very little to contend with.

Going forward it is something that Stoke will look to build on, but with the bad luck with injuries that they are currently undergoing, it will be interesting to see if it will come back to haunt them as more games are played in a short period of time.

The last thing that O'Neill will want to do is to consistently field tired legs, meaning that he will really be praying for the likes of Thompson, Clucas and Tymon to return to action sooner rather than later.