Any finish below 8th is unacceptable this season
Unfortunately for Stoke City fans the torrid start to the season came as no surprise following several well-documented poor starts to previous seasons under Mark Hughes’ leadership. Within the first month of fixtures many fans had decided that European football, even a top half finish, were out of sight already. This came in spite of the poor form at the beginnings of season past, but where do the clubs chances stand now?
The turnaround in form by the team has been something just short of miraculous. Helped by a run of easier fixtures, no doubt, performances, in attack and defence, have significantly improved. The discussions of whether or not Hughes should face the sack have faded with a similar gusto to how the team has improved, and deservedly so. However, the Welshman’s struggles at the start of every single season he has been in charge should not be forgotten when it comes to the end.
Everyone and their rugby loving uncle knows that Stoke have finished in ninth place three times in a row, and this seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling is only reinforced by the constantly slow beginnings to the club’s season’s. Despite never doing it before, despite the incredibly tepid start, despite an injury list longer than Peter Crouch’s inner leg, that finish has to be bettered this season.
I am not going to be someone that moans if we once more repeat the feat of ninth, I probably wouldn’t even moan at a tenth, but if we are to really reach the potential of the club and the current squad then an even better finish is going to have to happen at some point soon. If not, Hughes’ position as manager will be rightfully questioned
Looking at the other clubs that have succeeded during the Hughes era. West Ham, Southampton, Everton and Leicester City have all had the chance of a going on a European tour. With the money spent and the squad that has been assembled there is no reason why we shouldn’t be expecting the same. And from that expectation, if Hughes’ failures in early season fixtures are the reason why we don’t never before reached heights then why should we not question his position?
Although the departures of Steven N’Zonzi, Asmir Begovic, and even Robert Huth, are often lamented, we have been relatively fortunate with the lack of star players that we have seen leaving the red and white stripes behind. Ryan Shawcross, Marko Arnautovic and Jack Butland are a few of the names that in differing circumstances we could have been forced to say a difficult goodbye to, we are lucky that hasn’t happened – yet.
Somehow it seems as though we will be lucky enough to have had Shawcross throughout the peak years of his career. Despite his obvious qualities to us, no one else has realised how much of an imperious defender he really is. Butland is the one that many fans will be worried about losing as potential suitors are surely keeping two eyes on the future number one. Although no official bids have fallen through the Clayton Wood letterbox as of yet, how long do we have before one does? And can we be sure that bid will be sent away rejected? How long will we be able to keep hold of the likes of Shaqiri, Bojan and Arnie before the vultures start to circle?
What I am trying to say is that it is more than likely that we will not be able to hold onto these players forever. Yes, we have the infrastructure and funds to be able to bring in the next generation of talent, but who is to say whether that grass will be greener than what we currently have. So, whilst we have this immensely talented squad at our disposal we must utilise it and reach our full potential.
Mark Hughes has done an amazing job to build this talented squad, achieve top 10 finishes three years in a row and nearly take us all the way in the League Cup last year, but at the moment we are just the nearly men. We need to take it to the next level, despite our torrid start to the season. The bad starts to seasons have become a hallmark of Mark Hughes clubs and for a club of our ambition I just don’t think that is good enough this time around.
If we don’t get better than ninth, with a half decent push for European football, then I think we might need to consider Mark Hughes’ position as boss.
Let me know what you think is an acceptable finish this season on Twitter, @bajcartwright
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