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 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…

George previews his teams upcoming season.

SALFORD CITY

Manager: Graham Alexander

Last season: 2nd (Promoted via Play-Offs)

key player 

Adam Rooney. Top scorer last season, Rooney has played at the top level in Scotland which should hopefully stand him in good stead for a season in League 2. His physicality and nack of being in the right place at the right time could be key.

SIGNINGS SO FAR

Richie Towell, Dan Jones, Oscar Threlkeld, Kyle Letheren, Joey Jones. The signing of Towell is an exciting one. Towell was on loan at Rotherham in the Championship last year making over 30 appearances for them, so a drop down to League 2 should really make him one of the stand out players in the division.

Who TO SIGN

There’s been some talk of David Wheater coming in, which at league 2 level would be a brilliant signing. His mix of experience and presence at the back could be a really solid foundation to build the team on. Other than that full back cover should be a priority, as should a pacey winger and another striker.

EXPECTED FINISH

Play offs. Looking at the other teams in the league I don’t think there is too many stand out teams who could dominate. With 3 automatic promotion places and the 4 play off positions, a top 7 finish should really be the minimum expectation.

EXCITING GAME

Bradford City away is a huge game for a club like Salford. To come from where Salford have come to then be playing against an ex Premier League time like Bradford is an incredible journey. 

TROPHY?

The only trophy on offer is the Checkatrade trophy. Most teams don’t really care about the trophy, with poor attended games last season. This could give Salford a real chance to sneak in another appearance at Wembley.

@GeorgeBG123 on Twitter.

Jones X Stoke

Jones x Stoke. Game. Set. Match.

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.