Michael O’Neill wants to see ‘best version’ of Tom Edwards as defender returns to Stoke City

Michael O’Neill is hoping to see “the best version” of Tom Edwards when the right-back returns to Stoke City next week.

Edwards, 22, was a player of the year contender when he made a regular first inning for the first team in the second half of 2018/19.

But Nathan Jones brought in Tommy Smith that summer, and it was Smith who ultimately became the first choice when O’Neill took over that winter.

Edwards was on loan to try and restore confidence and form, first at Fleetwood and then at the New York Red Bulls, where he has enjoyed consistent playing time over the past few months in a season-ending playoff run .

He returns to the UK this week and will be back at Clayton Wood next week, eager to regain favor at the club he has been in since he was eight – although New York would like to take him back.

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Loan rules mean the defender won’t be available for selection until January, but he will have a month to show his potential in training and attempt to pitch in if and when he gets the chance.

“Tom will be back, of course,” O’Neill said.

“He’s got a month before the transfer window opens (when he’s available to play again) and he obviously has a contract, a long-term contract with another two and a half years.

“He had a loan spell away from the club at Fleetwood early last season and now a loan spell in MLS.

“I have to congratulate him for taking this opportunity because he had to step out of his comfort zone a bit, which is a good thing.

“It wasn’t an easy time with the whole Covid situation to uproot and move to America and deal with it. It mustn’t have been easy for him at times.

“He’s coming back here and hopefully we’ll see the best possible version of Tom.” I don’t think we’ve seen this since I’ve been at the club and can’t wait to see him when he returns next week.

Captain Joe Allen will be serving a one-game suspension this weekend against the Blackburn Rovers due to two yellow cards in Wednesday’s loss to Bristol City.

Sam Surridge is also out, the second of his three-game red card suspension against Peterborough.

Jordan Thompson and Sam Clucas are unlikely to be available, meaning Josh Tymon could be drafted into midfield three and Alfie Doughty or Morgan Fox, both returning from injury, get a run at the back.

O’Neill said, “We are moving forward. We are disappointed (with the result at Bristol City) but we will be ready to play on Saturday.

“We are stretched. We’re missing Joe now on Saturday and we have to make sure we’re ready to play.

“If you’ve got a three-game week and you can take six points in three games, that’s not a bad comeback. We have the opportunity to do so on Saturday.

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