Stoke boss Michael O’Neill has a goalkeeping dilemma ahead of his side’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Tottenham on Wednesday.
O’Neill must choose between an inexperienced teenager and a veteran who has not played a league game in almost two years as he attempts to shut out a side that could boast Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
Blondy Nna Noukeu, a 19-year-old with no first-team appearances, and 37-year-old Andy Lonergan, fourth choice at Liverpool last year, are the players in line for the unexpected opportunity as Spurs visit the bet365 Stadium.
The situation has arisen after an extraordinary chain of events with three goalkeepers going down injured and another being cup-tied.
Adam Davies, who began the season as number one, and his replacement Angus Gunn were the first to be sidelined before Finland international Niki Maenpaa joined them on the sidelines within days of being signed as cover.
Joe Bursik has started the last nine games after being recalled from loan at Doncaster but he is cup-tied. Including Jack Butland, who left the club in October, as well as Noukeu and Lonergan, Stoke have used seven goalkeepers in matchday squads already this season.
O’Neill said: “We’ve had a difficult situation in goal. We’ve got four senior goalkeepers out now if you include Joe Bursik.
“Our choice in goal is either young Blondy Nna Noukeu, a young Belgian goalkeeper, or Andy Lonergan, who we signed as cover for Joe as well. It will be either Andy or Blondy that will play.”
Noukeu, who grew up in Belgium but has pledged his international allegiance to Cameroon, has impressed for the under-23s side since joining Stoke from Royal Excel Mouscron last year.
Former Preston keeper Lonergan last played a league game for Rochdale in March 2019 before providing cover at Liverpool during their recent Premier League title-winning campaign. He has also been ill recently but has declared his fitness to feature.
“Andy is fine, he’s trained the last couple of days,” O’Neill said. “Blondy has been around the first team now for the best part of nine months and he’s done very well.
“He’s been on the bench on a number of occasions, so if he’s asked to play it’s a great opportunity for him.”
Stoke are without a number of other players including experienced players John Obi Mikel, Joe Allen and Ryan Shawcross but O’Neill hopes to see more of the spirit that has served the team well lately. Despite their issues, the Potters are seventh in the Championship and have already beaten Premier League sides Wolves and Aston Villa in their cup run.
“That’s the message we have to hammer home to the players,” said O’Neill. “We did very well, particularly (against) Villa when we played extremely well.
“It will be a tough test but a game when we’ve everything to gain and that’s how we’ll approach it.
“Whatever team they put out, given the quality in their squad and depth of their squad, it’s going to present a huge challenge to us but we can’t focus too much on that.
“Our focus has to be on our game and making life difficult for them, making it an uncomfortable night for them.”
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