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.
Almost a week has passed since that sad Saturday afternoon in which Stoke City were sitting in the relegation zone, dumped out of the FA Cup to a heavily-rotated League 2 side and lost their manager. I wanted to allow time to pass before reacting to the weekend’s events: emotions were at an all-time high and I believe it’s important to respond with a clear head and heart. I want this to be a statement of gratitude for all the work you’ve done over the last four-and-a-half years: nothing more, nothing less. You deserve that.
Stoke City sit 18th place in the league, 4 points away from the bottom, with the worst goal difference in the league and worst defence in all of Europe’s major leagues. I remind everyone of this because I hope the board have failed to realise any of this, and that this ignorance is the reason Hughes is still in charge.
I would find it much easier to sleep tonight if Hughes remained in charge because of gross incompetence rather than an actual decision reached by discussion and critical thought.
Indulge with me as I tell you the tale of my most miserable afternoon as a Stoke City fan to date.
It’s matchday. I’ve driven back from Loughborough in the ice after moving out of my university accommodation for the Christmas break and I’ve arrived back in Stoke ready to brace the elements to go and watch my team play. I knew it was a big game today, with both teams threatened with relegation and an ex-Potters hero coming back to his old hunting ground. It’s been difficult to get excited about Stoke City in recent weeks, this time though I was pumped. Little did I know that this game was to be one of the most emotionally demanding I’d ever attended.
It wasn’t a great start to the afternoon, me and my dad had left home and arrived in Fenton without the tickets. We were worried that we’d miss the start of the game, with that and the fact that travelling to the stadium was being slowed down by the icy walkways. It turns out the delay to our adventure wasn’t going to cost us: a power surge at the bet365 Stadium meant that kick off was delayed until by an hour and we’d be locked outside the stadium in the freezing cold. It’s fair to say the fans were even more fired up, if nothing else.
We now have joint worse ‘goals against’ tally in the Premier League, having conceded 26 goals in 13 matches. Crystal Palace continued the awful stat of an average conceding rate at two goals per game; and yet I find myself scratching my head and thinking has it really only been 26?
The Premier League this season has been full of goals, this is partly due to the ‘big teams’ turning up this year, and we certainly felt that against Manchester City. However, the new craze that has swept the Premier League has left most teams now playing wing backs in a back three or back five, depending on how defensive or offensive the team has set up . Mark Hughes set this formation up early on in pre-season and made it clear that this was the formation he wanted to start the season with. The big question now is, why has this formation failed so badly? Or is it a work in progress?
A week ago, Stoke lost 7-2 to a spellbinding Manchester City side. Despite it being Stoke’s heaviest defeat under Mark Hughes, the fans’ response after the game was relatively calm. Probably partially due to the sheer ruthlessness of the Citizens and partially due the string of heavy Stoke defeats over the last couple of seasons prior to this game. The Stoke players and manager demanded a reaction against Bournemouth; after a very difficult opening set of fixtures, this game was certainly a chance for Stoke’s season to kickstart. Stoke proceeded to lose to Bournemouth 2-1 at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday, and it appears those in the club who were prompting a ‘reaction’ wore no trousers.
This defeat saw Stoke plunge into the bottom three after nine games, a quarter of a season, played. Admittedly, it was a fate that was predicted at the start of the season – Stoke have already faced five of last season’s top seven – and it’s a situation that Stoke have plenty of time to turn around. Despite this, Potters fans’ frustrations have peaked. Talks of the club regressing, a growing sense of apathy and evidence of time, money and talent being wasted means that fans’ hostility – to the club and each other – is at its highest in years.