Bear Pit TV: Time for Stoke to live by the sword once more

Max Cooper from The Bear Pit TV pulls no punches in his assessment of Stoke City under Nathan Jones this season.

Max Cooper

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment that Stoke City began its torturous descent, but many supporters look back on that fateful penalty shootout defeat at Anfield in January 2016 as the game when everything started to unravel.

Since that heart-breaking loss, little has gone right for the Potters, and now we find ourselves at our lowest ebb for many years.

There was hope that our gutsy Carabao Cup victory against Leeds would be a springboard to stop the rot, but this shootout success proved to be yet another false dawn.

Saturday’s defeat to Birmingham may have been a turning point for some supporters, whose faith in their manager is vanishing rapidly.

A 2-1 loss, another implosion from a winning position and sitting bottom of the league going into the international break makes nervy viewing for all involved.

It was a week which left us with more questions than answers about Jones’ philosophy, and the Welshman looks to be second-guessing the plan which brought him to the Potteries. Saturday’s post-mortem was inconclusive, but there is heavy internal bleeding, and no heart.

The trip to Birmingham was geared up to be the beginning of a new chapter, the first day of OUR season. But it wasn’t to be.

Our feel-good factor suffered a blow when Jones made the curious decision to criticise sections of the Stoke support by calling out the ‘keyboard warriors.’

Whilst there is truth in his words, his timing was peculiar and sucked the positive energy out of the fanbase. Although he may feel unfairly judged by certain supporters calling them ‘lesser educated’ is not going to win over any doubters.

But the verbal diarrhoea didn’t stop there.

Unwilling to allow Potters’ fans even a drop of hope and optimism, Kevin Campbell decided to speak out against the manager over the treatment of his son, Tyrese, and his lack of game time. Once again, truthful, but untimely.

Campbell’s subsequent exclusion from Saturday’s starting XI came as a surprise to just about no one.

To add insult to crushing defeat, young midfielder Thibaud Verlinden was allowed to leave on loan to Bolton, much to the frustration of the masses, convinced he’s able to make a difference in a floundering team.

He has impressed when given the chance and looked very bright during pre-season, but we must trust our manager, who sees his players every single day.

Nathan Jones

Even so, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So often we see players who briefly make an impact, but then go missing from the side altogether, without a legitimate explanation.

Back to Birmingham. Jones switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation which he used at beginning of his Stoke City reign, and this shape provided stability, if not entertainment for those in the stands. Once again, we were a team unable to create chances with no direction or purpose.

The game threw up one major question: Is Jones beginning to doubt his own philosophy? If the answer to that is ‘yes’, we’re in big trouble.

After the crisis talks between player and manager, did they come to an agreement that the diamond
isn’t working? Possibly.

Did the players decide that the infamous 4-2-3-1 is the best plan going forward? I find that hard to believe.

The lack of consistency in his team selection is seriously concerning, both in terms of personnel and system. The players look lost and confused with the constant chopping and changing, and despite the results, they look at their most comfortable and dangerous using the diamond formation.

It’s easy to dismiss statistics as misleading and irrelevant, but Stokes XG (expected goals) per game is much higher than their opposition in the majority of matches, particularly when the diamond is deployed.

In layman’s terms, missed chances are costing us. Maybe defeat to Birmingham will prove to be a blessing in disguise. If Jones is unsure on his tactical choices, he can put a pin in the 4-2-3-1 plan. We have to hope he learns from this loss and sees that this system is not the way forward.

Amongst all the panic and pandemonium, Jones must remain calm and take a look up the table at his
former side. Luton Town are still riding the crest of the Nathan Jones wave, enjoying the fruits of the seeds once
sown by the City boss.

The Hatters are living and breathing proof that his plan works, and whilst some may point to the club’s recent promotion as the achievement of his successor, Jones built the club in his image and left behind a legacy to be nurtured.

The international breaks mean that anyone brave enough to look at the league table will see us at the bottom of the pile, but given Jones is likely to survive the two-week break, it allows him the perfect opportunity to really consider his options and what legacy he wants to build at Stoke City.

Diamonds are forever, Nathan.

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