Stoke City: The Resurrection Foundation

STEP FORWARD MICHAEL O’NEILL.

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.

DF x DW

Dan talks about his love for international football in the latest DF x DW.

GIVE INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL A BREAK

For many, the international break is seen as something of a hindrance. An unwanted, enforced break from the exhilarating standard of club football being played across the continent, in which, especially when it is the turn of European Qualifiers, matches are played with a mundane intensity and a frequent gulf in class. 

And you’d be right, if you watch the more ‘mainstream’ matches. Tune into Spain vs Faroe Islands, Belgium vs San Marino, or Italy vs Finland, and you’ll get an encounter that matches the description above. One side, boasting evident prowess and a sense of superiority, against a minnow, happy to play backs-to-the-wall football and hope that the scoreline doesn’t embarrass them by the time ninety minutes of gruelling defending has passed them by. 

But, head down the beaten track to some of the less publicised matches, and you’ll find bundles of under-appreciated teams, who’s opportunity to qualify for a major tournament is not seen as an automatic right like it is here in England, but instead, is a nationwide dream. An obsession. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that fills out stadiums and sends an entire, starry-eyed, football-loving population, into overdrive. 

Take Kosovo, England’s most recent opponents . Before the game, the nation who only gained recognition from FIFA to play international football in 2016, boasted the longest unbeaten run in European national football until that 5-3 defeat at St Mary’s. And for the country itself, which has only existed formally since 2008, to already be capable of scoring three goals against a superpower like England, is nothing short of remarkable. They are vying with Czech Republic to genuinely challenge England for qualification in Group A, which if they achieve it, will surely go down as one of the greatest footballing fairytales ever to have taken place on the international stage. 

Elsewhere, in Group J, Armenia and Finland are fascinatingly neck-and-neck in a similar situation, vying with Italy for top spot. Two unlikely contenders, genuine underdogs, who have already stunned Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece, sides who have plenty of pedigree on this stage let’s not forget, for whom an opportunity to line up at Euro 2020 would mean just about everything. Just look at Iceland’s heroics at Euro 2016 for what qualification for a major tournament can do for a small nation’s footballing status. 

And if you look even further abroad, every single qualifier played between African teams is free to stream on FIFA’s website. And for those amongst you that are as big of an AFCON fan as I am, this should really appeal you. The sheer madness of African international football, the rhythmic passion, the frantic intensity, completely cost-free. If you want entertainment from your international break, you just have to look harder for it. 

Furthermore, you shouldn’t tar all of international football with the same brush. The Nations League has been a resounding success in my opinion, replacing dreary friendlies with highly competitive encounters, between sides of almost identical ability. It is a competition that will only grow in both popularity and in how important it is perceived to be, but the inaugural showcase was very positive indeed. 

So, to conclude, I can fully understand people’s hesitations with international football. The small proportion of it that is provided to us by the mainstream channels perfectly explains such complaints, but we have an underlying arrogance – a bias toward the highest calibre of football – in this country, which has prevented us from seeing the true beauty of international football, in countries where it really matters. So, next time that club football does cease, and we see our respective nations take to the field once again, delve a little deeper into our beautiful game. Broaden your footballing horizons. 

Who knows? You might just love it as much as I do. 

Cowley x Town

Cowley x Town. New man.

The rumour mill is once again churning as the managerial roundabout keeps on turning.

The latest product of said roundabout is the transfer of Lincoln manager Danny Cowley to Huddersfield to replace the departed Jan Siewert.

In fact, according to reports…

Cowley is set to take charge of the Terriers as soon as today, leaving a side that he has managed two promotions guiding the side from non-league back into the Football League. Where he then guided the Imps to seventh before the next season catapulting them into League One.

Not only that but Lincoln became the first non-league club to reach the quarter-final of the FA Cup in over a century. Before being knocked out by Premier League outfit Arsenal in a 5-0 loss.

Cowley could be forgiven for being pessimistic about the move as the pressure will be on to turn around the fortunes of a seriously struggling side who sit 23rd in the Championship with no wins and only Stoke City below them on goal difference.

Stoke City can be a prime example for how such a move could not benefit the Lincoln boss.

Nathan Jones left Luton Town in a similar position to the one Lincoln are in under Cowley now to take the job in the Potteries, but has since struggled only winning three league games in 26.

Either way as Cowley looks set to take the hot seat at the John Smiths Stadium, it will be interesting to see how he fairs in turning around the sinking ship.

PL x VAR

PL x VAR

The PL X series is back with the newest in football technology in the spotlight, stay with us as we look at the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the Premier League this season.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the introduction of VAR would make the Premier League more entertaining and fair but it has not been received well at all… apart from by Spurs fans.

The latest team to really suffer at the hands of VAR was Aston Villa in their away game against Crystal Palace.

Being 1-0 down away from home is never an easy task to manoeuvre but in the very last minute of the game at Selhurst Park, Villa looked to have got a very important point before referee Kevin Friend consulted VAR and ruled out the strike by Henri Lansbury.

In a statement, the Premier League said: “The referee considered that Jack Grealish committed an act of simulation in the penalty area, and blew his whistle to stop the game before the ball went into goal.

“Under the IFAB protocol the video assistant referee system (VAR) is allowed to review the potential penalty situation. Having reviewed the incident the VAR judged that no ‘clear and obvious’ error had occurred and the on-field decision of simulation remained.”

In my personal opinion, VAR will eventually better the game. There are so many refinements and so much clarity that needs introducing to the process but ultimately once the powers that be have gone through it with a fine tooth comb it will mean a more consistent approach to the laws of the game being abided.

For now, fans in the stadiums will have to persevere with the constant waiting whilst referees consult with there counterparts in the office and teams will feel the nerves as they ponder any little aspects of goals or decisions made.

Whether you like it or not VAR is here to stay. It’s still the same game of football, just reimagined.

Jack Dawson.

DF Previews…

Ben previews his teams upcoming season.

Crewe Alex

Manager: David Artell

Last season: 12th   

key player 

Perry Ng is the real standout player in terms of quality.  He deserves to be playing at a much higher level but the state of the football market means clubs are reluctant to spend money on defenders when there are so many on free transfers.  

The joy of watching Crewe is watching young players progress and improve.  Many players tend to have a dozen good games before dropping in form as the adrenalin from being a new player runs out and the test is whether they come good after that introduction.  One player this applies to is Tommy Lowry (“Miniesta”) who at 3ft tall standing on stilts sticks out on the pitch.  He was first name on the team sheet at the start of 2017-2018 season but by Christmas had fallen out of favour.  End of last season he was back in the team and coming up with an assist or two every game.  If he carries that on then we will have a good season.

Other promising players include Ryan Wintle who is the anchor of midfield, Olly Finney who broke through last season, and Harry Pickering.  Owen Dale and Charlie Kirk provide flare up front in very different ways.  Either one can win you a match but not be seen for a month after

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Daniel Powell – signed from Northampton.  Looks fantastic in preseason (don’t they all) and a good replacement for Jordan Bowery who had the look of a great striker, but the ability to control a ball further than most players can kick one.

Ollie Lancashire – signed from Swindon.  Looks a good player on paper but then again so did Michael Raynes when we signed him.

Who TO SIGN

There are forwards and defenders on trial but one of the problems at Crewe is that every player brought in is a block to an academy player coming through.  I’d be more than happy to go with what we have up top.  In defence we are low in numbers with only Nicky Hunt and a young lad with a couple of appearances to his name as back up to the first choice 4.  Realistically it will be a cheap young centre back which will come in. 

EXPECTED FINISH

Play offs seen realistic given our form the second half of last season.  We had near the best home form in the league so sorting out the away form will be the deciding factor. 

EXCITING GAME

Macclesfield away.  Proper old ground, local derby, crammed away stand.

TROPHY?

Usually a good bet for the fair play award, although if Artell’s antics on the side line are anything to go by then this is unlikely.

DF Previews…

Luke previews his teams upcoming season.

Sunderland

Manager: Jack Ross

Last season: 5th   

key player 

Aiden McGeady. Throughout his career he has always been a player who can create something from nothing, but finally delivered consistently last season, albeit in League One. McGeady has matured into a real leader and our season fell apart after he broke his foot with 8 games to go last year.

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Three so far – Conor McLaughlin (right back) from Millwall and Lee Burge (goalkeeper) and Jordan Willis (centre back) from Coventry. Our 2ndchoice right back and 2ndand 3rdchoice goalkeepers all left in the summer so McLaughlin and Burge have been signed as backup, but there are high hopes for Willis, who by all accounts turned down offers from the Championship to come here. Our centre backs were so poor last season and really cost us at times, although signing Coventry’s goalkeeper and defender doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence given put 4 past them (but still lost 5-4!) towards the end of last season. 

Who TO SIGN

We were strongly linked with Marcus Maddison from Peterborough at the start of the summer – who is from the area and would have been an excellent signing – but that seems to have cooled off. Otherwise, we’re crying out for pace and athleticism in midfield. We have a lot of midfielders who are all quite similar – some quality on the ball, but slow and immobile. That is the root of most of our problems – the strikers are isolated and feed off scraps because there is no link between the midfield and attack, but but the midfield is often overran by more powerful, physical opposition. I was really impressed by Joe Aribo from Charlton who has since moved to Rangers, he is exactly the type of player we lack.

EXPECTED FINISH

We hovered between 2ndand 3rdmost of last season and were seconds away from extra time in the play-off final, so logically you’d think we’re not too far away from automatic promotion. However, performances seemed to get worse as the season went on before unravelling completely in the final few weeks, so the jury is out. I’d expect to finish comfortably in the play-offs again, but a lot depends on who we bring in whether or not we break into the top 2. We only lost twice between August and April last year, but drew 19 out of 46 and really need to learn to kill teams off if we’re to challenge.

EXCITING GAME

Portsmouth. We play them at home very early in the season and I’d expect there to be an edge to the game – we played them 5 times last season including the Checkatrade Trophy Final and play-off semi-finals, where a couple of their fans tried to attack one of our players during the game.

TROPHY?

I’d expect us to compete for the Checkatrade Trophy again, but otherwise I’d be surprised if we made it through to the 3rdround of the FA Cup, nevermind challenge for a ‘proper’ trophy.

DF Previews…

Adam previews his teams upcoming season.

Coventry

Manager: Mark Robins

Last season: 8th   

key player 

Jamie Allen 

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Gervane Kastaneer

Dan Bartlett

Josh Pask

Wesley Jobello

Fankaty Dabo

Ben Wilson

Marko Marosi 

Kyle McFadzean

Micheal Rose

Jamie Allen – My favourite. Proven Division One player who will strengthen our midfield and add that bit of bite since Michael Doyle left.

Who TO SIGN

Bright Enobakhare – had him on loan from a Wolves last season and has been linked with another loan move back to ourselves for a further period. A gifted player who made a massive difference when he came to us last year, when he’s on form he’s unstoppable at Division One level.

EXPECTED FINISH

10th – I think we’ll play away from home as we did last year, but with our move to play our home games at St Andrews Birmingham will hinder our chances of pushing on further in Division One this year, a huge disappointment that an agreements couldn’t be made to keep us in Coventry. 

EXCITING GAME

Sunderland home & away – no love lost here, they still hold a grudge from many years ago when we stayed up and they were relegated on the final day of the season. Extra fuel has been added to the fire this season as three of our promotion winning team have joined them.

TROPHY?

No – a play off place would be a huge result for us this season

@adamursell on Twitter.

DF Previews…

This time it’s my turn. I take a look at MY teams upcoming season.

Stoke City

Manager: Nathan Jones

Last season: 16th   

key player 

Peter Etebo – It is paramount that we manage to keep hold of the Nigerian midfielder for the upcoming season. He showed glimpses last season of the class midfielder that he is and in my opinion the best since Steven N’Zonzi left for Sevilla in 2015. If he can perform more consistently he can be a real force from the central midfield and probably chip in with a few important goals.

SIGNINGS SO FAR

We have made 7 signings so far and all very shrewd. Liam Lindsay cost the club £2million and following him were Lee Gregory, Jordan Cousins, Adam Davies, Nick Powell and Stephen Ward all on free’s from there respective clubs.

At the time of writing our most recent signing is former Huddersfield Town captain Tommy Smith. With a much smaller financial outlay on players this season we look more clued up about what to expect this season.My favourite signing so far has to be Nick Powell, a real talent when he is on his A game. If we can keep him injury free he could be a key cog in Nathan Jones’ preferred diamond formation providing and scoring goals.

Who TO SIGN

Has to be Dwight Gayle. Showed his true form for West Brom last season and what a real asset he can be in the Championship. Perhaps £20million is a fee to be scoffed at but if he brings 20+ goals he will be worth every penny in our promotion bid season.

EXPECTED FINISH

Top six is a minimum this season. Last season was disastrous and I definitely expect us to be at least challenging for promotion if not the league title. On paper we easily have the best squad in the league.

EXCITING GAME

The visit of Luton to the bet365. Luton fans have a real hatred for Nathan Jones since he left the League One champions back in January for the job with us. Much like Rowett and Derby last season I expect the atmosphere will be electric.

TROPHY?

I never expect Stoke to win a trophy, it’s just not how I’ve been bought up, but, I’d love us to win the league. I’ll settle for the play-off final though!

@JDawsonFootball on Twitter.

DF Previews…

Matt previews his teams upcoming season.

QPR

Manager: Mark Warburton

Last season: 19th   

key player 

No player really excites me however it was good to see Angel Rangel resign for another year and I’m interested to see these 2 highly rated youngsters signed from Man City and Spurs, Matt Smith and Luke Amos respectively. We have had good success over the years with younger players breaking through on loan, the most notable one in recent years was Andros Townsend so I’m hoping these two can create a similar kind of magic.

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Matt Smith, Dominic Ball, Luke amos, Yoann Barbet, Conor Masterson, Lee Wallace, Liam Kelly and Angel Rangel.

Who TO SIGN

At time of writing, Geoff Cameron, Stokes loss would be our gain. Im perplexed as to why Stoke would be prepared to lose one of their most consistent and versatile all rounders last year but his addition last season made a big difference. His injury cost us massively midway through the season and id love to see him back. (Turns out Matt got his wish as Cameron has now been announced as a QPR player!)

EXPECTED FINISH

Relegation, or certainly bottom 8, not enough experience or quality and too many untested young players.

EXCITING GAME

QPR V Stoke, living in Stoke ensures theres plenty of banter leading up to the game every season.

TROPHY?

QPR will be lucky not to be relegated based on current signings.

DF Previews…

James previews his teams upcoming season.

Nottingham Forest

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

Last season: 9th   

key player 

Key player for me has to be João Carvalho (other fans may say Joe Lolley). Club record signing last season at €15m, he had a fairly inconsistent season last year which felt largely due to the fact Martin O’Neill who took over in January didn’t seem to fancy him. Feel now he has settled into English football this could be a much stronger season for him.

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Yuri Ribiero

Tiago Silva

Sammy Ameobi

Alfa Semedo

Arijanet Muric 

Albert Adomah

Currently a struggle to pick a favourite as we’ve only played a handful of preseason games and there is very little to judge the lads that have come from abroad. Arguably I’d have to say Adomah but he’d need to rekindle the form of old to have an impact.

Who TO SIGN

No specific players as such but I feel with the players who’ve gone or are expected to leave in the near future, we could still do with another CB, CDM and Striker.

EXPECTED FINISH

I expect top 10 again and would love to see us push on but we’re in a relatively unknown period here with a new manager and a fair few new signings. It’s pretty clear the club owner Evangelos Marinakis expects promotion.

EXCITING GAME

Derby. It’s a brilliant occasion for both sets of fans, firmly believe the East Midlands Derby should be a top flight fixture.

TROPHY?

It’s been a long while, so I’ll reluctantly say no!

@Jiminy_Bob on Twitter