Many people backed Stoke City to be playing Premier League football once more in the 2019/20 season, but one year, one manager and 22 draws later, we find ourselves facing the gruelling task of another 46 Championship games.
It’s easy to point at last season as a missed opportunity and a further step backwards, and Nathan Jones still has plenty to prove to his new supporters after only three league wins during his time in charge. But there’s definite cause for cautious optimism, with the new campaign just around the corner.
A total of seven new faces have arrived since the curtain fell on the miserable 2018/19 campaign, and all the noise in the aftermath was that of change. Jones demanded fresh legs, hungry stomachs and strong mentalities. Gone are the days of eight-figure punts on risky, untried imports from abroad or expensive fringe players from top clubs.
Jones’ era has its own brand: Desire.
The former Luton boss has bolstered his side in key areas, and despite the minimal expenditure, the squad looks far more balanced than it has appeared for years.
Pre-season provided plenty of potential
What have we learned from pre-season? For years, the answer to that question has always been a simple one: nothing.
Tony Pulis used the summer break as an opportunity to run up hills, push his players to their absolute limits, and football was always secondary. We’re not entirely sure what Mark Hughes actually did during pre-season, but as every piece of dirty laundry continues to be aired by ex-Potters’ players, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that little work was ever done. Rowett’s overconfidence clearly spread through his side during last year’s pre-season, and another valuable preparation period was wasted.
This year however, we can finally see a plan, and some results to back it up.
Convincing wins against albeit lower opposition will give encouragement to Jones that his methods are transferring well into his new squad. During the summer he discussed his desire for a lean, hungry squad, and left several big names, including Bojan, Kevin Wimmer, Saido Berahino and many more, out of his pre-season plans.
Stoke’s surprising ability to get a number of key transfer deals over the line before deadline day has come as a shock to everybody, but for once the core of the squad has had the chance to gel during a pre-season, and this mainly comes down Jones’ insistence on bringing in his own identified targets.
Whilst we should not expect immediate results and a free-flowing style of football from the off, the Potters’ early performances have demonstrated an understanding, a willingness and an enjoyment of Jones’ ideas.
Powell the key to success
The key area which demanded reinforcing and improving was the tip of Jones’ diamond, the attacking-midfield role. For years we have lacked a man capable of linking the midfield to attack, producing defence-splitting passes and contributing a few goals of his own. Many will argue we have that man rotting away in Spain, but Bojan is clearly not part of Jones’ plans, and the sooner he leaves and kick-starts his career, the sooner we can forget about this painful love affair.
The fans’ affinity with the former Barcelona magician is not solely for what he can produce, but what he represents. His spark and flair were missing all of last season, and even if Bojan wasn’t the man to recreate it, supporters need to be given someone who can.
Jones may have finally found that man.
Nick Powell is an exciting signing that we should all get behind. This is a player that Sir Alex Ferguson took a chance on, and although it didn’t work out for Powell at the very top of English football, we’d be foolish not to take that chance ourselves.
His long-range shooting and eye for a pass scream Premier League quality, as does his touch, his movement and technical ability. The only question mark arises in regard to his consistency and attitude, which are equally important factors.
There is no doubt that Jones is aware of these issues, and he will believe that he can squeeze out every drop of Powell’s talent over 46 matches. His goal return from midfield is impressive, averaging a goal every three games for Wigan during his time there, and surrounded by a better quality of player, he could really shine in red and white.
Playoff place a genuine possibility
This prediction comes with a caveat: The Championship is the most unpredictable league in the world.
It will take time for Jones’ methods to truly fall into place and become second nature to this adapting squad, but hopefully time will be on the Welshman’s side. His inspiring and motivational antics are enough to get even the most passive Stoke supporter out of their seat, and he will need all of them by his side if this new beginning is to be the dawning of a new era.
The Championship is filled with a mixture of Premier League quality and unmatchable desire and determination, and you have to be up for every fight week in, week out.
We have never been notoriously quick off the mark at the start of a season, and I fail to see that changing this year. As the season goes on, we may well find our feet and start to the see the best of Nathan Jones’ ideas, and a late charge into the playoffs never hurt anyone. Just ask Aston Villa.
Don’t ask me to predict the playoffs though.
What I do predict is that we will see plenty of chest-pumping and fist-pumping from our energetic and faithful boss… God willing, that is.
About Bear Pit TV
The Bear Pit TV has been established since 2015 and was an idea conceived by Elliot Hackney who felt there was a lack of quality content available to fans of Stoke City.
It’s now spiralled, from a Facebook page, to a YouTube channel, to a website and podcast and regards itself as Stoke City’s fastest growing online community.
FansBet are committed to giving 50 per cent of their net profits back to fans. To find out more about how they do it, click here!
And is that is not enough check out our Fan Boosts here. The best odds and an unrivalled range of special bets!
FansBet. By Fans, For Fans.
*Odds are subject to change.
Leave a comment
Follow maxcooper5 on Twitter