EFL Bound – What Went Wrong?

 

So as we bid our farewell to the Premier League after an unforgettable 10 year spell, we will the cherish the moments that us Stoke supporters had only dreamt of witnessing. As the dreaded drop to the second tier of English football looms upon us, it’s hard to argue that several factors have played a huge part in our demise. From establishing ourselves as a tough-to-beat Premier League side under Tony Pulis that reached an FA Cup final and took us on a European adventure, to the Mark Hughes’ ‘Stoke-alona’ period, which saw us within touching distance of a League Cup final, we have fallen so quickly and the football has deteriorated to the point that has become intolerable. We look back at how it all went wrong, and why?

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Management

‘Who else is going to do it?’ These were the exact words of Mark Hughes as Stoke succumbed to yet another defeat at the hands of Newcastle United. At this point we had racked up a total of 20 points from 22 games, which was no doubt relegation form. The core strengths of the club that we had built over the previous nine seasons under Pulis and Hughes, the hostile and intimidating atmosphere we had created for the opposition had been laid to ruin by Hughes’ questionable tactics, poor quality of football and countless defensive mistakes which had led us to the position we find ourselves in. After the embarrassing and humiliation of the FA Cup exit to the financial stricken Coventry City, it proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Hughes’ tenure as Stoke boss.

So the question that was put out by Hughes as his sacking loomed was answered by Paul Lambert. All the correct things were said to attempt the supporters on his side, changing the training regime completely by focusing on tightening up the leaky defence and increasing fitness levels. But results have not improved as we have picked up just 10 points from a possible 39. You could argue that this is not a true reflection of the performances that the results have merited. One thing is for sure though is that his top priority over the summer is to bring back the identity of the club that we had created throughout our time in the Promised Land.

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Recruitment

Many of us would never have thought that the recruitment side of the club would contribute to our downfall, with the likes of Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Allen and Bojan to name but a few choosing us as the next step in their careers. But when big money comes into play, that’s when things seem to go awry. Gianelli Imbula was brought in for a record fee of £18 million, and at first proved to be a steal as he put in stellar performances. But as he fell out of favour with Hughes over his attitude, he was sent out on a loan and has been a total flop.

We can also look at the free transfers of Darren Fletcher and Choupo-Moting, the latter in which was intended to be the replacement of Arnautovic, who got his transfer requests answered by West Ham in the summer, but both have not been performing consistently enough throughout the season. Questions need to be put towards the likes of Mark Cartwright and the board as to who was involved in these ludicrous signings.

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Lack of attack and defence

Despite his scoring record of not netting in two years, Hughes felt that, for £15 million, Saido Berahino would be the answer to our attacking problems. But since signing last January, he still is yet to score competitively. Add that to a forward line that consists of an ageing Peter Crouch, Mame Diouf who is inconsistently performing and an inexperienced forward in Tyrese Campbell, it’s no wonder that relegation is inevitable.

We also have to look at the defensive frailties in the back line that have shipped 65 goals this season, one of the highest in Europe’s top five leagues, which seems baffling considering we have the likes of Shawcross, Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Butland. But if you take the wing back formation that Hughes persisted with for so long, with Diouf playing in a right wing back position, and throw the countless individual mistakes at the back into the mix, it was a recipe that was always seeming to result in a disaster.

As the season draws to a conclusion, we can argue that other factors may have played a part – lack of passion and fight, or the attitude from certain individuals, notably Jese Rodriguez and Berahino. But during the summer, huge changes and decisions must be made both on and off the pitch to make any kind of return to the Premier League if we come up short.

Ben Jones

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