Saturday’s win away against first place Swansea was Stoke’s first win of this season and just the 5th win for the Potters in the Nathan Jones era.
While Stoke certainly looked impressive against the league leaders, fans would be foolish to see this as a sign that the team have “turned the corner”. The club have endured a tough start to the 2019/20 campaign, currently sitting bottom of the Championship with 5 points after 11 games. This unacceptable tally is the result of a three-season long cancer which has spread throughout all facets of the club, creating a culture of losing almost impossible to break.
This demise was seemingly unexpected, with the Potters achieving three consecutive 9th place finishes between 2013 and 2016 under Mark Hughes- looking likely to be a contender for Europa League places in the coming seasons. However, City’s collapse was the result of an ageing core inherited from the Tony Pulis era and poor recruitment under Hughes- which has continued under Gary Rowett and Nathan Jones.
After the 2015/16 season, Stoke lost their famed defensive solidity from Pulis’ reign. Captain Ryan Shawcross returned a shadow of his former self after a back injury the season before and Goalkeeper Jack Butland also out injured. Regression from Marko Arnautovic and the struggle to find a reliable striker also meant the Potters had lost their goalscoring touch.
This season was also the start of the “recruitment issue”. Chief Scout Mark Cartwright and Chief Executive Tony Scholes are the main villains here, with reportedly little communication between them and Hughes. Cartwright- a former lawyer with no previous experience in football- reportedly scouted players on YouTube rather than in person and has presided over the worst transfers in the club’s history. Shockingly Cartwright is still in charge even after spending £12 million on Saido Berahino (who left on a free transfer after several drug incidents), £18 million on Gianelli Imbula (currently on loan at Lecce), £18 million on Kevin Wimmer (currently on loan at Royal Excel Mouscron- no I haven’t heard of them either) and £14 million on Badou Ndiaye who’s struggling to get into the team. That’s £62 million which has been wasted.
This resulted in Stoke’s relegation from the top-flight in the 2017/18 season- a 38 game long experience akin to a depressive episode. The Potters finished the season in 19th place with a goal difference of -33- a figure which still hurts to this day having been to every home game that season. To add to this pain, City won the fewest games IN EUROPE in the 2018 calendar year- no surprise when that year we had the miserable managerial merry-go-round of Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Gary Rowett.
And now we’re here. City are in their second season back in the Championship and the problems of our past are still the problems of our present. We’ve managed to ruin a promising young manager in Nathan Jones and the squad are as disjointed as ever. Still, things can only get better- but only because they can’t get much worse.