Last week was a less than ideal start to the season at Leeds but we have the chance to set the record straight as Brentford visit the Betannia for the first home game of the season. Last weekend can be seen as somewhat of a learning curve and a shocking introduction to the division, although many of us knew that it would not be quite as easy as the bookies made out.
For anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning Moneyball starring Brad Pitt, Brentford have adopted the same way of scouting and acquiring players that has seen so much success in baseball, and they’re starting to reap the rewards. Owner and fan Matthew Benham made his money through gambling and daringly decided that the way to match teams with greater spending power was to look for the things that nobody else could see, players deemed not good enough by the Premier League big boys or from abroad.
With the beginning of the season just around the corner, the reality of being back in the second tier is really kicking in, and there is no better way to start than facing the team we should least aspire to be like. There can be no doubt that the Championship is one of the hardest leagues to predict in the world and has been like quicksand to so many relegated Premier League clubs, although few have struggled as much as Leeds who were sucked straight in and have struggled to escape since.
Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 and relegated from the Premier League in 2004, their decline over the past two decades has included a three season spell in League One, numerous financial difficulties and no fewer than 19 different managers. Although none of those carry the reputation of the current boss, Marcelo Bielsa.
Over the years, Stoke have struggled to deliver on youth prospects, with the most notable graduates being the Tony Pulis favourites Carl Dickinson and Andy Wilkinson. The lack of homegrown players was partly due to vying with clubs in an extremely busy catchment area for the brightest talents and partly due to operating out of a Portakabin donated by Aston Villa to the old Michelin training ground. The biggest hindrance however was the aforementioned Mr Pulis, who’s fascination with 30 year old Sunderland centre backs and insistence that the academy was an unnecessary use of resources and should be closed down held back the production of future generations of Stoke players.
However, the complete redevelopment of the Clayton Wood training facilities to a truly elite standard and a larger emphasis being placed on self-sufficiency by the owners responsible for online gambling powerhouse bet365 have given fresh hope to youngsters hoping to make it in the famous red and white stripes.
If you’re reading this, it means Gary Rowett has been announced as Stoke City manager. Five months down the line from Stoke’s first reported interest, we have finally got our man. So what on earth can we expect from the former Burton Albion, Birmingham City, and (now) Derby County manager?
Stoke City have dismissed their second manager in less than six months as Paul Lambert left the club following its relegation to the Championship. Paul was tasked with hauling the mess of a squad, left by Mark Hughes, over the line to retain Stoke’s Premier League status. With just two wins in the fifteen games available – his first and last in charge – he failed and has now paid the price. It’s not all bad for Lambert though: he surely leaves the club with his head held high. He got another shot in the Premier League, turned the morale of an abhorrent dressing room on its head and would have saved Stoke had fate been a little on his side.
Following Mark Hughes’ removal early into the new year, Stoke chased a host of candidates to replace him. Gary Rowett decided that Derby would give him the best shot at being a Premier League manager come the start of next season (unlucky Gaz). Quique Sanches Flores decided to stick with Espanyol as Stoke refused to meet his tall demands (he’s now unemployed). Martin O’Neill was disappointed not to be first choice as Hughes’ replacement and rebuffed their approaches to stick with the Irish national team. With the pool of preferential candidates depleting and time running short, Stoke’s top brass decided to ensure they had a manager in place and took the unpopular decision of hiring Lambert.
Stoke are facing arguably the biggest summer the club have ever faced, and it is beyond doubt that the decisions taken between May and August will have long reaching consequences for us. Irrelevant of whether Stoke begin the season in the Premier League or Championship it will be a time of overhaul. The departures of Allen, Butland and Shaqiri are certain despite the outcome of our next 6 games.
Despite the great disappointment that this will be to the fans Stoke will be heavily compensated. In the current market it would not be surprising for the total figure of those threes sale to be closer to 100 million than to 50. This provides Stoke with a genuine chance to rebuild, and what an opportunity that may be when looking at the current side. The club is filled with players quite content to take their pay check whilst appearing to have genuinely little concern for the future of the club.
Stoke drew 1-1 to Brighton at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It was a game described as the biggest since the Potters’ promotion from a Stoke point of view and tensions were running high before and throughout the match. Both sides came away with a point each but it’s not enough for Stoke to drag themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone. Time is running out for Paul Lambert and his squad to leapfrog their way out of trouble and it’s fair to say that it’s going to be an uphill battle from here.
The talking point of course will be the missed penalty. Stoke’s number eleven, Jesé, controversially won the spot kick and demonstrated that he deserved to take it. However, Charlie Adam picked up the ball almost immediately after Bobby Madley put the whistle to his lips and marched to the white spot in front of his target. Jesé put up a furious protest having to be restrained away from Adam and clearly put pressure on the latter. Whether the pressure got to him or not, Charlie missed that penalty as the clocked ticked past ninety minutes and his team’s chance to escape the drop zone flashed away as quickly as the Stoke fans’ smiles.
Earlier today a message appeared in a twitter group chat, it read: “Right. Does anyone have an actual explanation for Fletcher?” The discussion moved onto how bizarre Fletcher’s decline has been, something that would normally only occur due to injury. Suggestions quickly came; ‘he’s just past it’, ‘maybe he is carrying an injury’, ‘he’s lost the ability to read the game’, but none of these seem to be a satisfactory enough answer.
Fletcher initially appeared to be a dominating midfielder (I even did a stats show on him), the likes Stoke had not seen since a Frenchman scorned us and moved to Spain. So for him to tail off so drastically to a point where many were wanting the return of Charlie Adam, seems totally perplexing.
Stoke have signed two fullbacks in the space of a week. That sentence will be the music to Potters fans’ ears considering the options that have been available for the last few months. A heavily declined England international, a striker, a Dutchman who just can’t seem to get it right and two developing teenagers have left Stoke crippled in the increasingly more important areas on a football pitch. Each of those mentioned either have or will have their part to play in Stoke City’s development and deserve our respect. However, Stoke’s defensive width is currently lacking and has been need of a revamp for a while. The arrival of new manager Paul Lambert was sandwiched between the signings of Moritz Bauer and Kostas Stafylidis. Let’s see what we’re getting.
Moritz Bauer is a 25-year-old Swiss-born Austrian right back. He arrived for £5.5m from Russian outfit Rubin Kazan and has signed a contract with Stoke which expires in 2022. Bauer’s professional career started in his native country with Grasshoppers, before earning a move to Russia in the Summer of 2016. Bauer spent 18 months with Rubin Kazan and broke into the Austrian national team during this time, he has four caps currently. Interestingly, Moritz is also a qualified pilot and flies regularly between football. He is also a polyglot and can also speak five languages including, perhaps most relevant currently, English.
On a bitterly cold night in Manchester, our boys took on the might of Manchester United as we looked to put in a good performance at the start of a new era. Of course the news had broken of our new Managerial appointment earlier yesterday as Paul Lambert was announced as our new gaffer on a 2.5 year deal.
The news in the main was not particularly well received as many perceived him to be the clubs 4th choice. In fact it’s fair to say, the majority of us felt “ flat “ at this appointment. That said, and once the news had been processed, the Stoke fans got right behind their new man as “ Paul Lamberts barmy army “ belted out from the away section at the self proclaimed “ theatre of dreams “.
Man United away was always going to be a very tough assignment regardless of the circumstances. In fact I did not know one Stoke fan who honestly felt we could take anything from this fixture. Especially so considering our poor away form throughout the season to date. Despite this, we started brightly and carved out some good chances only for Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial to score excellent goals during a decent first half. To be 2-0 down at the break felt a bit unjust as we had acquitted ourselves very well. The desire, work rate and all round commitment which has been absent so much recently was there for all to see. We couldn’t really ask for anymore than this right now.
After the interval and despite trailing, the Stoke fans really started to find their voice as “ Paul Lamberts barmy army “ was belted out for a good ten minutes. It was a fantastic atmosphere and for the first time in
good while you really felt like the Stoke fans were together as one.
United stepped it up a bit in the second half and although we competed for most of it, we didn’t offer as much as an attacking threat as we had done during the first. Mame Diouf did miss a late good opportunity but other than that, I cannot recall us troubling David De Gea in the United goal. On 72 minutes, Romelu Lukaku made it 3-0 and that was it as a contest.
Despite the defeat, there were was plenty to leave us feeling positive about. Steven Ireland did well as he continues to return to full fitness – indeed this was his first Premier League start since April 2015. Xherdan Shaqiri looked a threat at times and our new full back from Rubin Kazan (Moritz Bauer) acquitted himself well. The biggest positivity for me however was our support. This was a proper vocal away following with us all coming together as one. If we have any chance of surviving we have to maintain this now and put any differences in opinion regarding the new Managerial appointment to one side.
One statistic that does concern me though is this. We have conceded 50 Premier League goals this season and 5 of the previous 6 sides that conceded 50 plus goals at this stage of the season were relegated. The only exception to this was Swansea last season.
Nevertheless, we can still do this. We have a run of critical games now which may ultimately decide our fate, starting with Huddersfield at home on Saturday.
Time to get up for the fight everyone and unite behind “ Paul Lambert’s barmy army “
By James Lockett