Manchester United’s preparation for the Premier League season took an odd turn on Tuesday.
The Red Devils were scheduled to face Championship side Stoke City in a friendly, but did not play the Potters on the pitch following a positive coronavirus test from the visitors.
[ MORE: New PL schedule ]
Stoke’s players arrived to United’s Carrington base on Tuesday but never got the chance to play after Potters boss Michael O’Neill, the former Northern Ireland boss, tested positive for COVID-19.
From The Manchester Evening News:
Stoke immediately informed United’s medical staff of the news who ensured that United’s star players were locked down in a ‘safe area’ well away from their Stoke counterparts, who were then rushed out of the training ground.
Premier League clubs are only allowed friends against clubs within a 90-minute drive of their ground.
While the missed opportunity hampers United, Stoke now has to prepare for the Championship campaign with its manager in isolation.
Fortunately, the Potters have the experience of working under a boss remotely given training during the coronavirus pause. Stoke is three points above the drop zone with nine matches to play.
And an outsider emerges…
English commentator Ian Darke says the United States will talk to Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill regarding its vacant managerial spot.
Dave Sarachan is leading the USMNT for Tuesday’s friendly in Portugal, and the lack of competitive international fixtures for more than 600 days means U.S. Soccer needs not rush to find a boss.
[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose vs. Portugal ]
O’Neill, 48, was capped 31 times by Northern Ireland and played club for Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibernian, and Wigan Athletic during a long and well-traveled playing career.
He managed Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers before taking the NI gig, leading the Norn Iron to an upset of Ukraine at EURO 2016 and a 1-0 knockout round loss to Wales. Northern Ireland finished second in its World Cup qualifying group, but lost an international playoff to highly-favored Switzerland 1-0 on an away goal (one that came from an awful penalty call).
That said, O’Neill still has limited experience in managing, and NI was blessed by favorable draws in EURO and World Cup qualifying. Marquee wins are few and far between, especially away from home, and NI does have some strong players in Steven Davis, Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, and Jonny Evans.
He also has a DUI in his background.
O’Neill might be a good choice, given his experience in rallying an underdog on the world stage. He’s certainly the right sort of guy to interview, so this is a promising sign. Most important in my book? He’s not Sam Allardyce.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is feeling rightly aggrieved after his side’s World Cup hopes took a huge blow via a poor penalty call.
[ RECAP: N. Ireland 0-1 Switzerland ]
Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan called Corry Evans for a handball when Xherdan Shaqiri‘s shot was blocked by the leaping defender, who had his arm tucked into his body near the top of the 18.
Shaqiri admitted he “didn’t know if it was a penalty or not,” though most others will tell you it should not have been given. Ricardo Rodriguez converted the chance for the Swiss, who were better on the day, and the 1-0 tie heads to Basel on Sunday.
Here’s O’Neill, from the BBC:
“The referee has no-one in his line of sight. Corry’s arm isn’t in an unnatural position, it’s by his side. The ball hits him on the back more than anything. I thought the referee had blown for a foul or an offside. Nobody had claimed for it. I’m staggered by the decision, staggered by the yellow card.”
O’Neill said the players have to channel their visible anger from the dressing room into a performance in Switzerland. It’ll be hard, as stopping the Swiss attack requires complete defensive focus and the Norn Iron don’t have the hopes of 0-0 and penalties.
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and been banned from the road for 16 months.
O’Neill was caught by police on the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 10 and was found to be around three times the legal drink-drive limit.
O’Neill appeared on Thursday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he received the driving ban and fine of 1,300 pounds ($1,700).
O’Neill’s solicitor, James Mulgrew, told the court “this was simply a bad error of judgment.”
Northern Ireland is still in contention for its first World Cup trip since 1986. The team plays Switzerland in a two-leg playoff next month to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year.
More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup