“I said in my first interview back – I feel fresh, I feel ready to go. It’s been a pleasure to be back working,” said captain Liam Moore as we gear up to the game with Stoke City – a match that has been three months in the making.
“The standard has been good, the tempo has been good. Now we need to transfer it into the proper stuff.
“It’s like a tournament format now. We’ve got nine games, and we’ve had a short time together to get ready for these games. But we’re ready to go. We know each other and everyone has been on the same format; fitness is looking good in our group, so it’s about transferring it now.
“Everyone is the squad is sharper now. We’ve had two friendly games against good opposition. A Premier League opponent in Chelsea against some very serious, world-class opposition. And then against a really good Portsmouth team who are pushing for promotion.
“We’re as ready as we can be. There’ll be no excuses. It’s just about transferring it onto the pitch on Saturday.
“We have had a chance to get a few key players back fit. The whole league is in the same position; a 12-week lay-off, and three weeks to get ready together. This time on Saturday, we’ll be going into the game on a level playing field. So we need to make our advantages count.
“I’m really proud of the group. I said before – everybody came back in good condition, so that’s already a positive. I can’t say too much because it’s the games that count – but we’re in a good place and when Saturday comes we want to tick off three points.”
It’s far from an easy game to get started with. The Potters could barely buy a win in the early months of the season, but have changed their fortunes under Michael O’Neill and were one of the form-sides heading into lockdown.
“Like all players in the league, we know theirs well,” Moore continued. “There’ll be a few changes here and there and a few players back fit, but we know what to expect. So it’s about bringing what we can to the table, nullifying their threats, and leaving it all out there on Saturday. It’s all about the three points.
“They are in a position that they need to get themselves out of. It’s the same situation that we had over 100 days ago. They are fighting for their lives; we are fighting to get up the table. We expect a really tough encounter but one we’re ready for.”