When Nathan Jones replaced Gary Rowett at Stoke City, their fans were hoping for a fresh start and a much-needed antidote to their miserable return to Championship football. With one win in nine, however, it seems there is no end in sight for the Potters’ woes.
What is Going Wrong at Stoke City?
Not Good Enough
In reality, there is no excuse or rational explanation for their shortcomings this season. The side from Staffordshire currently sit in eighteenth place, closer to relegation than they are to the play-off spots.
This squad is packed with seasoned Premier League talent who collectively boast plenty of international experience. This is an outfit with levels of squad depth that are virtually alien to the second tier and could, on paper, compete in the top-flight.
Additionally, the infrastructure, resources and following of a side like Stoke renders their league position utterly inexcusable. Underachieving so disastrously in football can often be explained but, for Stoke, there is simply nowhere to hide.
Crumbling Under Expectation
At the start of the season, Stoke were widely tipped to make an immediate return to the Premier League. With World Cup stand-out Oghenekaro Etebo joining a star-studded midfield with the likes of Joe Allen and Bojan, this topped off an incredible summer of recruitment and retention for the Potters.
There was consequently a great deal of pressure heaped upon Gary Rowett’s men, which they failed to rise to. Automatically assuming huge success from a side that looks strong ‘on paper’, was and always will be a naive view to take in football.
The warning signs were evident from the opening game of the season, as Stoke fell to a 3-1 dismantling by Marcelo Biesla’s Leeds. In coming weeks came a 3-0 loss to newly-promoted Wigan Athletic, which raised some major concerns. Firstly, a fundamental inability to gel as a team and, perhaps more worryingly, a short-sighted lack of respect for Championship football.
What’s To Blame?
It would be easy to pin their issues on a naive approach, yet this isn’t necessarily true. By now they will have acknowledged the quality of Championship football, but no amount of pragmatism seems to improve their situation.
Gary Rowett aimed to recruit players with Championship know-how to bolster his side’s resilience within such a tough division. Similarly, Nathan Jones’ recent acquisition of former Wolves star Danny Batth demonstrates his awareness of how important Championship experience is.
As tends to be the case in recent times, the blame will naturally be shifted onto the manager. Nathan Jones may have impressed at Luton Town, but besides an impressive victory over Leeds, he has failed to work his magic in the Championship.
Even so, two highly-talented managers have attempted to galvanise this squad, but nothing seems to be working. It is entirely possible that there is no one overriding cause for Stoke failing to find their rhythm, perhaps they just need a season to find their feet.
For whatever reason, things are not clicking on the pitch for Stoke City. Failing to gel a string of high-quality players together is commonplace, but Stoke cannot hide behind excuses since their squad is too talented to be floating in Championship obscurity.
Whilst not as extreme, the club’s underachieving and incurably inconsistent campaign has affinities with Sunderland’s last season. In addition to adversity on the pitch, off-field dramas such as Saido Berahino’s drink-driving charges are comparable with the Darron Gibson controversy in March last year.
With the recent passing of club legend Gordon Banks, this incident won’t aid in improving the mood surrounding the club. If Stoke are to mount an unlikely promotion push, then they will need to demonstrate a Herculean amount of discipline and unity.
With enough desire and spirit, Stoke City’s side is talented enough to conquer the Championship. It is still not too late for a play-off push, but it rests upon them utilising their talent and experience, while simultaneously treating the second tier with the respect it deserves.