19th January 2019. ST4 4EG. 17:00.
Nathan Jones and his Stoke City side celebrate the first win of the new era, as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side fall to a 2-1 defeat to the Potters. All is good, out with the old in with the new, Nathan Jones is the man to take this club forwards. His enthusiasm and his passion is clear to see and incredibly infectious. We are marching back to the big time with this man in charge…
Fast forward, November 26th 2019, 5pm. The man who once sat in the same seat Nathan Jones has ‘occupied’ at the bet365, Gary Rowett, gets one over on the team who sacked him less than 12 months ago. It marks the end of the Nathan Jones era and the club is in nothing short of turmoil. The fans have turned, the players look lacklustre, the manager is bereft of ideas – a change is needed. That change came just five days later as Nathan Jones was relieved – probably personally, as well as of his duties as manager at our wonderful football club.
The next appointment the Coates’ would make in the managerial seat of the bet365 was arguably the most important in years, maybe even in all of my 22 years on this earth. The Stoke City we had endured week in week out for nigh on three years were lazy, disinterested, heartless and almost embarrassing at times. That HAD to change.
STEP FORWARD MICHAEL O’NEILL.
Having managed just two club sides in his career, this appointment could have raised a few eyebrows. In fact no doubt it did, but what the straight talking Northern Irishman had done with his home nation was nothing short of emphatic. The man from Portadown guided his country to their first ever European Championship in 2016 where they reached the round of 16 and grabbed the hearts of all football fans with their sheer determination and togetherness. We should have known then, we had found a diamond in the rough (the rough being those managers that wanted to manage us).
Now, I am as big a fan of MoN as anyone, I really am BUT… I am not sure we can give him much credit for the performance away at Barnsley – I am not even sure he knew everyones name by that point I mean he’d been in the job for less than 24 hours. Never the less what we saw was a little glimpse into the coming months.
I have tried my very hardest to erase the first half of last season from my mind, but writing this I realised – without that woeful first 14 games of the season, we wouldn’t even be able to begin to give O’Neill as much credit as we must for the turn around. At Christmas we looked dead certs to be relegated to League One, I’m not a betting man but IF I WAS, my money was on us to be playing the Vale sooner or later.
But do you know what even though I felt like that on Christmas Day 2019, by the end of Boxing Day I was almost certain we’d still be a Championship team come this time next year. That home win against Sheffield Wednesday when Sam Vokes produced his best moment in the red and white stripes in the 97th minute showed me what I wanted to see. We saw heart, fight, passion, determination and more than anything we saw the Stoke City we know we love.
From then is all a blur as MoN took no prisoners really. Huddersfield away on New Years Day, Tyrese Campbell showing how he really is the next R9. That away win at The Hawthorns (Tyrese again). That pre-lockdown dismantling of Hull where we barely got out of third gear.
I didn’t think we could get better. I was almost proven right after lockdown when our beloved game returned and and we made Wigan look like prime Pep Guardiola Barcelona alongside making Neil Warnock look like the best tactical mastermind we have ever seen. But MoN owned that, he faced up to it and in no uncertain terms told the players if they played like that again – they wouldn’t play after that.
The four wins from our final six games last season shows how far we had come in literally six months (minus lockdown). Unbelievable.
This season was the first time since the Premier League days where I felt genuine excitement and optimism for Stoke and do you know what they have absolutely delivered everything I want from them.
Defensively we are the best team in the country with the most clean sheets kept in all of the leagues. We grind out results – no better example than this weekends 1-0 home win against a Blackburn Rovers side who move the ball well and have some really good individuals that punish those who can’t defend.
Listen, we might not have a lot of the ball. We might not play one-two’s, quick passing tiki-taka football. Despite all of the pessimists out their on Stoke City Twitter (don’t @ me) we have defied a lot of critics this season. In the league we have an average possession of 48%, we’ve scored 25 goals and a pass completion rate of over 70%. You tell me this time last year, did you ever think those stats could be that of Stoke City? Because I certainly did not.
He drinks the whiskey. He drinks the Guinness. He hates the Vale.