Stoke make approach for No 1 target – as we revealed first

Stoke have made an official approach for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, the Irish Football Association has announced.

The Potters have been linked with a host of potential replacements since sacking Nathan Jones last week and have now contacted the IFA about their long-serving boss.

We exclusively revealed on the day of Jones’ sacking that Stoke had earmarked O’Neill as their No 1 candidate to step into the hotseat.

In a short statement released to the PA news agency, the IFA said: “The Irish Football Association has been approached by EFL Championship club Stoke City who are seeking permission to speak to Michael O’Neill about their vacant manager’s position.”

The Potters parted company with Jones after only 10 months in the role; the former Luton boss having won only six of his 38 games in charge after succeeding Gary Rowett in January.

He leaves with Stoke second from bottom in the Sky Bet Championship and should O’Neill step in, he’ll face a real fight to prevent the club from slipping into the third tier of English football.

O’Neill, who was appointed in December 2011, guided Northern Ireland to their first major tournament in 30 years when qualifying for Euro 2016.

They still have a chance of reaching next year’s tournament too, sitting third in Group C behind Holland and Germany and face the daunting prospect of games against both powerhouses this month.

Regardless of those results, a play-off place seems likely for Northern Ireland, which will surely factor into the 50-year-old’s thinking as he ponders the prospect of taking over the Championship strugglers.

Speaking at Wednesday’s squad announcement in Belfast, O’Neill was asked about potential interest from Stoke.

“It is always flattering. It is better to be linked than not linked, let’s be honest,” said O’Neill, who turned was unsuccessfully targeted by Scotland last year.

“It it is not a distraction for me. It is something that has been ongoing for a number of years, and the focus has been on preparing for next week’s games.

“As I have always said, if and when a situation arises, then you look at that scenario at that moment in time. But right now, my focus is obviously on the two games that lie ahead.”