The Championship can, at times, be a cruel mistress. Stoke City are one of many teams that have found it hard to adjust to life in the second tier, despite pre-season expectations of total dominance.
In fact, the Potters placed a meagre 16th,in their first season out of the Premier League in 10 years, in the Championship season just passed.
Once viewed as Premier League stalwarts, City, found themselves embroiled in controversy and a relegation battle come January 2018, where they changed manager for only the second time in their ten year Prem stint. When Paul Lambert replaced the outgoing Mark Hughes, Stoke were flirting with relegation, but just two wins in 2018 saw them finish the season 18thand condemned them to at least one season in the Football League’s second tier.
The end of the 16/17 season bought a host of changes. Gary Rowett replaced Scotsman Lambert and employed an almost completely fresh backroom staff in an attempt to fire Stoke straight back to the big time. Big signings like Benik Afobe, Tom Ince and James McClean were completed giving the squad a fresh look from the woes of the season before.
But, in Rowett’s first competitive game in charge, Stoke fell to an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at the hands of Leeds on Elland Road turf. A stark contrast to what was expected and hoped for by Stoke fans.
Rowett showed some promise when his Stoke side reached the dizzy heights of the top ten in his first few months in charge, but a baron spell over Christmas saw Stoke decline to the bottom half of the table. With hopes of promotion now fading away, the Stoke board made a quick decision in relieving former Derby man Rowett of his duties, almost a year to the day that Mark Hughes suffered the same fate.
In came Nathan jones. An almost unknown entity in football, Jones had taken London club Luton Town to the dizzy heights of the pinnacle of the League One table following a successful 2017/18 campaign that saw the Hatters promoted from League Two to the third division.
The Welshman entered the bet365 Stadium, with a fresh boost of enthusiasm and passion that Potters fans had craved for so long. Not only that but a reputation that is ever-growing in the English game. Luton fans praised his attacking intent alongside a defensive solidarity and a real hunger in every game. Something that Stoke had lacked for so long
However, Jones seemingly inherited a squad with no motivation, no togetherness and no confidence. The new man had a lot of work to do. His first half season with the Potters ended with a 2-2 draw to newly promoted Sheffield United on home turf. Perhaps a sign of things to come with results before that beginning to look promising.
It is, without a doubt, one of the toughest jobs in football at the moment (trying to turn the fortunes of a team bereft of confidence), but Jones clearly feels he and his team have the ability to do so.
With an apparent squad overhaul on the horizon, Potters fans will hope that this season will show stark contrast to the disappointing fate that came with last. At least a top six finish is a realistic expectation for the team from Stoke-on-Trent and will certainly be the ambition that they will show.