It might be fitting to compare Stoke City’s recent plight to that of a Shakespearean play. This latest act has been grim-viewing, winless in the league and one point above equally hapless Huddersfield.
We have had one morsel of positivity to cling onto this season though – The Carabao Cup, that was, until Tuesday evening.
In every tragedy, Shakespeare plants a clown or a fool into proceedings, which provides some light comic relief for the audience, before returning to the hard-hitting reality in front of them.
The Carabao Cup was our clown. The normally meaningless tournament allowed us some hope, entertainment and most importantly, the winning feeling that every football fan craves.
No Stoke supporter expected the Potters to win the tournament, nor were we particularly interested in reaching the latter stages.
Our priorities were deeply rooted in the Championship, but a cup run helped us to forget our tragic position in the all-important league table.
Shakespeare’s clown does not only lighten the mood however, but his presence helps the audience to understand the complexities of the story unfolding before them, and he reveals harsh truths in a comedic fashion.
Our clown showed his face for the final time when Crawley buried their fifth and final penalty, and his final appearance left us all staring down the barrel.
Even the Bard himself would have struggled to conjure up the fall from grace our club has suffered, and the clown’s death may signal that the final act of ‘The Nathan Jones Era’ is upon us.
It was the same old story on Wednesday night, a story to which we’ve become almost numb and desensitised. The plot played out much as we’d expect: take the lead, sit back, concede an equaliser, then shoot ourselves in the foot until we’re put out of our misery.
Our opposition sit two leagues below us, but the quality of our counterparts seems insignificant nowadays in our battle against inevitability and pre-determined fate.
Almost two months have passed since the opening week of this wretched campaign, and supporters and manager alike still have no idea what our best starting XI is, or even what our strongest formation looks like.
In these two months, we’ve lost six league games, and conceded 17 goals, scoring only seven. Some defeats have been cruelly unjust, others painfully deserved.
Jones’ side has suffered so much misfortune that even the ever-faithful Welshman must question what God truly has in store for Stoke City.
The noises circling the club on Wednesday morning suggest that Friday’s home fixture against Nottingham Forest is do-or-die for Jones.
With his side five points from safety, each game becomes more monumental than the last, and the pressures grow on a wilting and spineless group of players.
The former Luton boss was furious after the Carabao Cup defeat and highlighted some jokers of his own who wouldn’t be on stage for the foreseeable future.
“It was as bad a 45 minutes as I’ve had as a manager, and then the red card killed us. A few performances out there were a real eye opener. We got out-battled and out-fought a bit. Nowhere near good enough. Yeah, we made a lot of changes, but were still strong enough. Some of those players, it might be a while before they play.”
Whilst Jones’ words weren’t poetic, they were certainly damning.
“Whether they don’t want to play for me, or it was just playing poorly, you will have to ask Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know. I don’t think so”.
If the Stoke boss truly believes that members of the squad have turned against him, the curtain may well be about to fall on the Welshman’s time in Stoke-on-Trent.
With any good Shakespearean tragedy, you’re left stranded on the sidelines, aware of the pain and desperation ahead of you, but with a tiny glimmer of misguided hope that things may turn out alright for our protagonists.
Nottingham Forest is our glimmer of hope.
Jones is on his last roll of the dice, and he knows it. In what may prove to be one of the biggest performances of his career, there can be no mistakes.
The Potters’ boss will be sat backstage looking around at his cast, wondering who is ready to stand up and be counted, and who would rather silently slide a knife into his back.
If Nottingham Forest proves to be the final straw for Peter Coates and Co, Jones’ brief spell in charge of Stoke City will have been indicative of everything that’s wrong at the club.
Three and a half years of misery, one powerless manager after another, and players coming and going without a shred of consideration for those in the stands.
Each new manager arrives, believing he’s the man to change the fortunes of a beleaguered side, and provide an alternative ending to this never-ending nightmare.
The bad news is, all of Shakespeare’s tragedies end in sorrow, death and heartbreak, and Stoke supporters will be left scratching their heads, wondering who was the real clown after all.
Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.
Good luck, Nathan, we’ll be with you.
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