Stoke City: Pennant can be 'Jermaine' man for Potters again
JERMAINE Pennant is being tipped to bounce back from last season's woes to make headlines again for all the right reasons.
Pennant's very liberty was at stake after off-field issues culminated in a court case and a suspended prison sentence for drink-driving.
His form inevitably suffered on the field, and he ended up starting just under half of Stoke's Premier League games.
But the 29-year-old winger has since spoken positively about the forthcoming campaign, his third at the Britannia Stadium, and City coach Mark O'Connor believes Pennant can rediscover his earlier scintillating form with the club.
O'Connor, a former winger mentoring the club's wide men, asserted: "What's gone on in private has been dealt with and is in the past.
"Like everyone else, he starts afresh next season. No points and 38 cup finals to play.
"You have to look forward now. He's our player, and one of our best players, and let's hope he comes back with a positive frame of mind and shows us what a good player he is."
O'Connor even believes an on-form Pennant can be compared favourably with England's finest on the flanks.
"At his best," he argued, "there's no reason why he shouldn't be on the verges of the England squad.
"He's a better crosser of a ball than anybody who's out there at Euro 2012.
"Perhaps he doesn't beat people like a Theo Walcott, but the final ball is better. He can get out of tight situations, has good legs and knows how to play the position.
"He's got tremendous ability. You don't play for the clubs he's played for (Arsenal and Liverpool included) without having ability. And our supporters have seen that.
"They didn't see it enough last season, however, and we need him to get back to similar levels to the season before when we got to the FA Cup final."
By his own admission, Pennant's wing partner Matthew Etherington, pictured below, also failed to regularly hit the heights last season, but O'Connor is confident there is time for the 30-year-old former Stoke player-of-the-year to recapture his old form.
"He knows in his own mind that he fell below his high standards and wasn't on top form last season," O'Connor agreed, "but he continued to work hard and didn't hide.
"When people set a very high standard like Matty did, you, as coaches, are expecting them to play like that regularly and that is being a bit unrealistic.
"But hopefully, with the addition of one or two players to raise the standard like Peter Crouch did last season, we can get Matty back to his best form."