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Stoke struggling to arrest vintage Hughes decline - Interview
Thursday, 22nd Nov 2018 21:59 by Clive Whittingham

A first meeting with Stoke in three years sees us reconnecting with David Cowlishaw from the Wizards of Drivel Podcast to find out where it went wrong in the Premier League, and why significant summer outlay hasn’t been able to reverse the decline so far.

After a decade of Premier League security, it all went wrong last season. How and why?

Short answer: Mark Hughes. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Hughes did take us to our highest position in years – not just in terms of the league but in terms of quality of football - but not long after we were beating (and outplaying) the Manchester clubs, it came crashing down. He played less expansive football without doing any defensive training to justify it, the club recruited poorly (£18m on Kevin Wimmer and Jese as a Marko Arnautovic replacement) and our board gave him too much time when it was clear he hadn’t got a clue how to remedy the situation. We’d gained an identity under Hughes, and then decided to lose it for no real reason.

Mark Hughes working his magic again? He’s not popular down here…

Maybe we should have listened? Admittedly, at least he did have a good period here before it went downhill. Just as you warned us of his deficiencies, so too are we giving the ‘told you so’ treatment to Southampton fans. I can’t work out how he got a good Premier League job after us, but there you go. From what I’ve seen of Southampton this season, it’s all too familiar. Disorganised defending, unadventurous up front. Just so boring.

Assess Stoke’s new season so far, not the start many expected?

No. Losing comfortably 3-1 at Leeds was a real wake-up call, and despite the pre-season hype we’ve just not going. Initially it stemmed from being really poor at the back, and although we’ve become a lot tougher to beat recently we also just can’t seem to get up a head of steam. Consistently inconsistent.

Given the quality and cost of player added over the summer we expected you to be top two fairly comfortably, why hasn’t that happened?

I think you could make the case for our midfield – on paper – being one of the best in the division, and we’ve got experience at the back and up front, but we just haven’t clicked. Gary Rowett is a huge part of it, as in making us tough to beat there’s a lot less scope for the creative players like Tom Ince and Bojan to shine. Beneke Afobe is very isolated and I sometimes think we’re not showing enough ambition in our play. I also think some may have over-estimated the quality of our purchases as so far only Ryan Woods has lived up to the hype.

What’s the feeling towards Gary Rowett, a highly rated manager at this level but one whose stumbled a bit at Derby and now Stoke and interviews like he’s got a chip on both shoulders?

Jury’s out. He’s definitely a snappy character but I don’t think Stoke fans mind that after the dourness of Hughes and Paul Lambert. I described him the other week as being “just a bloke”. That’s kind of how it feels at the moment. He’s not a terrible manager but he’s not a particularly exciting or successful one. I wonder what his great plan for the team is. Right now it just seems to be clinging on for results – not the attitude of a team tipped as title favourites.

You leant us Geoff Cameron, who’s been brilliant for us. Why did you do that? Any grumbles about it?

I think the grumbles only really came when we were so poor at the back and short of defensive cover earlier in the season. We’ve got a lot of time for Geoff Cameron, as he was the ultimate utility man in our Premier League seasons. I certainly think he’d be good to still have in our squad but I guess he wants first team football at this stage in his career. Cover for centre half yes, but I don’t think he displaces Woods, Etebo or Allen in our midfield.

Bit of an upturn recently, only one defeat in eight (only three wins mind) and three clean sheets in a row – what’s that down to and should we be worried for Saturday?

Down to our ropey defending earlier in the season, where we’d go two or three goals down before we started playing. So now we’re playing 10-15 yards deeper and hoping for the best, stifling our ability to create chances but making it more difficult for the opposition. Should you be worried? No, I wouldn’t say so. We have players capable of hurting teams but I can’t see us scoring more than once against you to be honest. You have the momentum and our crowd can turn easily if we go a goal behind.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?

Major standout has been Ryan Woods. A really classy footballer, with a great eye for a pass, great positioning and just oozes confidence. Has taken over the armband with Ryan Shawcross now on the bench. Bojan, if he plays, is still for me a fantastic player and needs to be given minutes – particularly in our home game. Yet Rowett doesn’t seem to like him or the number ten position in general. Weak link could be Ashley Williams at the back – he’s improved lately but always seems to have a mistake in him. With Ince potentially injured, we could have problems supplying Afobe if the very limited Diouf and McClean are starting.

How do you see the second half of the season panning out? Promotion push still possible? Financial consequences if it’s not achieved?

Don’t think there’ll be much by way financial consequences – we’re well backed and our net spend this season isn’t actually all that high. Play-offs are still a possibility but Rowett hasn’t inspired much confidence in me that we’re going to have a crack at them. We’ll blunder about a bit, finish ninth, but Rowett will stay and the pressure will be cranked up a bit for next season.

The Twitter @wizardsofdrivel, @davidcowlishaw, @loftforwords

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londonscottish added 23:45 - Nov 22
Good interview, thanks. Interesting that Hughes has again been doing "no defensive coaching".

I remember Derry talking about this exact same thing when Hughless was here an being gobsmacked by it.


TacticalR added 22:32 - Nov 23
Thanks to David.

Also interesting that Hughes did have a good spell at the beginning at Stoke. Perhaps he was just living off the defence he inherited?

Not sure about Rowett. He really turned things around at Birmingham, but it sounds like he's treading water at Stoke.

Brentford didn't look the same without Ryan Woods. I hope he doesn't play as well against us for Stoke as he used to for Brentford.

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