On losing to fellow Championship strugglers, Huddersfield Town earlier this month, Stoke City were consigned to a tenth match without a win this season. An unwanted record that extended to the back end of last campaign – the Potters failed to win any of their final six games, claiming a measly four points from a possible 24. Last weekend saw Stoke win their first game of the season, against Swansea City, but they are still rooted to the foot of the table.
It was less than a decade ago that Stoke made the final of the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history, eventually losing to Manchester City by a narrow 1-0 scoreline. That achievement won them a place in the Europa League – their first appearance since the 1974-75 UEFA Cup. They had a good run, making it through two qualifying stages, finishing second in group E to Beşiktaş, before losing in the Round of 32 to Valencia. From five seasons of sitting comfortably in mid-table of the Premier League (including three successive ninth-place finishes), the 2017-18 campaign saw Stoke relegated in nineteenth position with just 33 points.
Championship odds (https://www.betfair.com/sport/football/english-championship/7129730) don’t favour the Potters to do well this season, or even avoid the drop at this early stage. But where has it all gone wrong?
Goals… or lack of
It’s a well-known fact that goals win games and having a world-class striker can obviously improve your side somewhat. But over the course of the last two seasons, Stoke have struggled up front. In their relegation season, they scored just 35 goals (averaging less than a goal per game) and their top scorer was Xherdan Shaqiri who bagged eight of them. Last season, they didn’t fare much better – scoring 45 goals (again, less than a goal per game) and nine of those were scored by top scorer, Benik Afobe.
So far this campaign, the Potters have scored 11 goals, which isn’t the lowest in the division, but in their opening games, they’ve conceded 22 times, more than any other club.
The club’s top scorer last season is yet to make an impact this campaign, with Afobe featuring just once in the Championship so far. Fellow strikers Lee Gregory and Sam Vokes hardly boast admirable returns, with one goal to Gregory’s name and none for Vokes. The squad are clearly crying out for a proven goal scorer.
Since Tony Pulis left for the second time back in May 2013, and the sacking of Mark Hughes in January 2018, there’s been something of a revolving door for managers at the bet365 stadium.
To some extent, Hughes steadied the ship, guiding Stoke to three-successive top-10 finishes, as well as cup runs that saw them reach the fifth round of the FA Cup and semi-finals of the League Cup. Prior to his departure, the club had the worst defensive record in the Premier League and occupied the final relegation place.
Hughes’ replacement, Paul Lambert, wasn’t able to keep the Potters up. Despite improving their defence, Stoke remained a weak attacking threat, winning two and losing seven of their final 16 games. Lambert left in the close season to be replaced by Gary Rowett. Once again, in a results-driven business, the club weren’t winning games, and after a poor return from less than 30 games in charge, Rowett was dismissed.
Nathan Jones had already guided Luton Town to promotion and the club were on course for a second success in as many seasons, but Jones jumped ship to manage Stoke. In his debut season, Jones won just three of 21 games, but in the transfer window, was given the funds to assemble his own squad, signing 10 new players. Despite the recent win over Swansea, Jones has previously admitted he’s resigned to losing his job, claiming it’s ‘not worked out’; while the fans are understandably frustrated and calling for his head.
Will Jones be able to mastermind the turnaround, or who will come in and change the Potters’ fortunes?