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.