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Stoke stalling again despite summer overhaul - Interview
Monday, 27th Nov 2023 15:06 by Clive Whittingham

Stoke have finished in the bottom half of the Championship in each of the last five seasons, and their start doesn't suggest that's likely to change much this year despite a summer intake of 19 new players. We spoke to @Potterlytics about Alex Neil's frustratingly inconsistent side.

How would you assess Stoke’s season so far?

Very mixed. A couple of really dominant victories against Rotherham and a great battle to beat Watford at home made a lot of fans think we may have found a bit of a formula, but a familiar return to defensive errors and big injury layoffs led to us being two points off the bottom three in October. Three wins in a week against some tough opposition, followed by two goalless draws have dragged us back up the table, but there are very big question marks over at least one of those wins and whether the results will continue. The underlying numbers seem to say that the run isn’t sustainable as it stands, and a 3-0 defeat to Blackburn at the weekend looked ominous.

Stoke in the league so far…
Stoke 4-1 Rotherham Hoever 5, Vidigal 45, 45, Brown 90 – Peltier 46
Ipswich 2-0 Rotherham Woolfenden 23, Jackson 81
Stoke 1-0 Watford Vidigal 53
Millwall 1-0 Stoke Nisbet 31
Stoke 0-2 Preston Keane pen 51, 57
Norwich 1-0 Stoke Stacey 44
Huddersfield 2-2 Stoke Pearson 31, Rudoni 68 – Johnson 33, Wilmot 62
Stoke 1-3 Hull Vidigal 77 – Connolly 30, Traore 32, Slater 73
Bristol City 2-3 Stoke Bell 5, Wells 15 – Leris 20, Haksabanovic 47, Lowe 89
Stoke 0-1 Southampton Armstrong 41
Leicester 2-0 Stoke Iheanacho 24, Vardy 79
Stoke 2-1 Sunderland Mmaee 7, McNally 47 – Clarke 10
Stoke 1-0 Leeds Struijk og 80
Boro 0-2 Stoke Rose 8, Leris 37
Stoke 0-0 Cardiff
Coventry 0-0 Stoke
Stoke 0-3 Blackburn Wharton 4, Moran 86, Szmodics 90

After a really busy summer there was finally a bit of optimism and a few ‘dark horse’ tips around for you guys, but so far it’s been very Stoke indeed – bottom half of the Championship once again as we speak. Are you disappointed? Surprised? What have been the key problems this time?

Prior to the last five games, in which we’ve had 11 points, I think everyone was disappointed by the season. Some big injuries to key players have made things hard, and the little resurgence in recent weeks has quelled a lot of the noise, but there’s still something very Stoke about it all as you say. For the first two or three of the season so far the problem was defence. The same type of goal, players being allowed to turn in the box unchallenged and shoot, happened four or five times in a span of a month. Now, with four clean sheets in a row, the issue is the other end of the pitch. Finding ways to make all those new signings gel at both ends has proved elusive so far.

And how does this affect the public opinion around Alex Neil – he’s been backed, he’s got his players, he’s got his team…

He is certainly backed by the board and I’d bet my house (sorry landlord) on him having at least the whole season bar some silly relegation scare. Their manager-led model has backed them into a corner whereby it would be crazy to remove him before he’s had a long-term run. My opinions on whether that’s a good model to run a club with or not are fairly clear, but I’ll leave those for another time! With fans, it seems he’s bought himself some time with the recent run of form, but there are still substantial worries about the quality on offer, and whether he really can get the best out of these new, exciting arrivals.

Of the mammoth summer intake, who have been the notable successes and failures among the newbies?

At first the success was André Vidigal. A relatively unknown winger, signed from a relegated Portuguese club for half a million, who came in and scored some crucial goals and really looked like he had that knack for goalscoring. An injury brought that to an early end, and he’s struggled to get back to that form just yet. Since then, I’d say the big success has been Luke McNally. A strong, confident, progressive centre half who has really stepped up to the plate in the last few weeks.

In terms of failures, it’s hard to say, there have been so many signings that many just haven’t really played enough to judge. My two most disappointing players so far have been Pearson and Johnson. Pearson hasn’t quite recaptured the confident, dependable solidity that made him shine in last March’s run, and he seems much more susceptible to the daft fouls and petulant bits of the game. Johnson has been a bit of a boo boy in recent weeks, too. He works hard and helps the press, but far too many attacks seem to break down as they reach his feet.

Ins >>> Wouter Burger, 22, DM, Basel, £4m >>> Ryan Mmaee, 25, CF, Ferencvaros, £3.5m >>> Mehdi Leris, 25, RW, Sampdoria, £2m >>> Joon-Ho Bae, 20, AM, Daejeon Hana (South Korea), £1.5m >>> Ben Pearson The Goblin Boy, 28, DM, Bournemouth, £1.2m >>> Nicola Jojic, 19, RW, Mladost (Serbia), £1m >>> Andre Vidigal, 24, LW, Maritimo, £450k >>> Wesley Moraes, 26, CF, Villa, Undisclosed >>> Lyndon Gooch, 27, RW, Sunderland, Undisclosed >>> Junior Tchamadeu, 19, RB, Colchester, Undisclosed >>> Daniel Johnson, 30, CM, PNE, Free >>> Enda Stevens, 32, LB, Sheff Utd, Free >>> Michael Rose, 27, CB, Coventry, Free >>> Ki-Jana Hoever, 21, RB, Wolves, Loan >>> Mark Travers, 24, GK, Bournemouth, Loan >>> Chiquinho, 23, LW, Wolves, Loan >>> Sead Haksabanovic, 24, LW, Celtic, Loan >>> Luke McNally, 23, CB, Burnley, Loan >>> Ciaran Clark, 34, CB, Unattached, Free

Outs >>> Jacob Brown, 25, CF, Luton, £2.5m >>> Josh Tymon, 24, LB, Swansea, £2m >>> Connor Taylor, 21, CB, Bristol Rovers, £300k >>> Nick Powell, 29, AM, Stockport, Free >>> Morgan Fox, 29, LCB, QPR, Free >>> Demeaco Duhaney, 24, RB, Istanbulspor, Free >>> Tom Edwards, 24, RB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Sam Clucas, 32, CM, Rotherham, Free >>> Aden Flint, 33, CB, Mansfield, Free >>> Tashan Oakley-Boothe, 23, CM, Blackpool, Free >>> Phil Jagielka, 88, CB, Released >>> Peter Etebo, 27, DM, Released

What are the key strengths of this Stoke team, and its key weaknesses?

As with last year, this is a 50/50 question depending which Stoke turns up. The Stoke of the five games prior to the weekend had a battling quality and a defensive solidity that has led to those four clean sheets in a row. Then we lost 3-0 to Blackburn. There’s certainly still a mistake in there.

Weaknesses are all around going forward. We’re averaging under one xG a game, and have only managed to get more than one xG in one of the last seven games. There’s been a switch to trying to stop conceding, and that’s led to a lack of threat in attack.

Given the rate of change over the summer I guess igt was always likely to require some settling in time. Now five unbeaten with three wins, do you see this getting better over the winter months?

I think I speak for the collective PTSD of everyone who has supported Stoke over the last 8-10 years when I say ‘maybe but probably not’. There’s been a very common thing in the last six years where Stoke appear to turn corners, only to find fantastical new ways to throw progress in the bin. It’s great to see us grinding out those results in the recent weeks, and hopefully that’s the first step in developing the team to get those full 90 performances, but underlying numbers really don’t bode well for sustainability as it stands.

Revised expectations for the season?

I’d be happy with a top half finish, and hopefully some kind of flirt with being at least outsiders for the play offs. The issue as ever is how we get there. A season with only one or two decent runs of a few weeks won’t go down well, but the important part is that the performances give hope for the following season, that’s the mark to aim for.

Links >>> Bircham for mayor — History >>> Doughty in charge — Referee >>> Stoke City official website >>> Stoke Sentinel — Local press >>> The Oatcake — Message Board >>> The Wizards of Drivel — Podcast >>> Every Step Along The Way — Podcast

The Twitter @loftorwords @Potterlytics

Pictures — Ian Randall Photography

Action Images

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francisbowles added 15:52 - Nov 28
Phil Jagielka 88😂

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