STOKE City boss Michael O'Neill has revealed that he has helped James McClean find form again at club level by simplifying his game.
Before O'Neill's arrival at Stoke last season, Republic of Ireland ace McClean found it difficult to shine in a struggling side and his performances at international level also dipped, but this term he has been a star turn in City's climb up the Championship table scoring goals and providing assists with the ex-Northern Ireland boss determined that the Derry man improves on his numbers.
Speaking before McClean was tested positive for Covid-19 when on international duty, forcing the player to miss Wednesday's 0-0 draw against Bulgaria in Dublin and Stoke's next two games, O'Neill said: "James is a player who you have to simplify his game for him. Where James has been good for us is in providing balance on the left hand side whether we play him in a couple of systems. He's actually been playing wing back for us and has done well this season.
"I don't think the international window at the start helped James because we had two very important pre-season games that he missed and then he had to be a little bit patient, facing competition for his place. Since coming back into the team though he has played really well.
"The thing about James is he gives you everything he's got and he's adding goals now which is good. Last season he got seven goals for us and I think he got seven assists which are his highest numbers in English football. You have to push him and make sure he tries to hit those numbers again and improve on them."
Stoke's Northern Ireland midfielder Jordan Thompson, signed from Blackpool in January, has also been praised by O'Neill who feels he could be the man to fill the shoes of legendary skipper Steven Davis at international level in years to come.
"Jordan has been excellent. We are really delighted with him. He stepped up from League One and has impressed everyone at the club in terms of the level of a player he is," says O'Neill.
"The players took to him straight away and you could see Joe Allen and John Obi Mikel have been really impressed with him. He just has to continue to progress.
"When you look at the Northern Ireland team Jordan is the one that will maybe eventually fill the role that Steven (Davis) plays at the moment. We have played him as a holding midfield player and in a midfield two and are delighted with his contribution."
Bulgaria claim they are a better side than the Republic of Ireland despite their relegation in the Nations League but share the same problem in being unable to convert chances.