Where has it all gone wrong for Stoke City? In the last 10 seasons, the Potters have made it to an FA Cup final and participated in European football, reaching the last 32 of the Europa League. But since their relegation from the Premier League in 2018, they’ve endured a lacklustre return to the Championship. They finished 16th last season and can currently be found in the drop-zone.
In the last two years alone, they’ve gone through five managers and following the recent sacking of Nathan Jones, they’re on number six. To many, Jones was somewhat of a strange appointment. Granted, he’d won promotion to League One with Luton Town and a second promotion was also likely under his guidance. But it was hardly a signal of intent for a team that should have been challenging for a place back in the top flight. Relieving Gary Rowett from his duties, Stoke sat 14th in the table, eight points from the play-offs. While they weren’t losing every game, they weren’t winning them either. Between late October and his sacking in early December, they drew six of 10 matches.
It wasn’t the winning start Jones would have hoped for, and defeat against Brentford saw the Potters extend their winless run to four games. Although the team won their following match against Leeds United, Jones was only able to win twice more that season and Stoke finished with a winless run of six matches. They began the current campaign in much the same vein of form, despite Jones bringing in 10 new faces. With eight points on the board from 15 games and the club sat rooted to the foot of the Championship table, Michael O’Neill was appointed manager ahead of their bottom-of-the-table clash against Barnsley.
He made a winning start to his tenure despite limited preparation time as Stoke travelled to Oakwell and won a thrilling encounter 4-2. With the Potters and the Tykes switching places in the table, Stoke now look likely to beat the drop in English Championship betting odds.
After Friday night’s win, O’Neill told BBC Radio Stoke: “I’m delighted with the result because where we are at this moment in time, that’s the key thing. But many aspects of the performance were very, very pleasing. We’ve obviously had very little time to work with the players.
“So we had to make a decision to change the system and make some changes in personnel without seeing the players in any great detail, but the response we got was excellent.”
O’Neill will take charge of Northern Ireland’s final two Euro 2020 qualifiers, as well as any potential play-off matches in March, before relinquishing national duties. Under his leadership, the Green and White Army made their first-ever European Championship in 2016, advancing to the knockout stages before losing to fellow home nation Wales. As a club manager, he’s taken charge of teams in Scotland and Ireland and his list of honours includes back-to-back league titles with Shamrock Rovers in 2010 and 2011.
Stoke face relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic in their next game and in the lead-up to Christmas they face teams only in the bottom half of the table. Reverting to a 4-3-3 formation last Friday, as opposed to the failed diamond utilised by Jones worked a treat. Players that were previously out of favour or didn’t suit the system will be given a fresh chance to prove themselves and there’s no doubt that O’Neill will get the best out of them. He has a challenge on his hands to occupy two posts at once, with Stokies vying for his full attention. But should they get a winning run together, or at the very least, keep more clean sheets, they’ll pull away from the mire.