Stoke begin inquest into difficult Championship return - Interview
Friday, 8th Mar 2019 08:09 by Clive Whittingham
Ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Stoke we ask David Cowlishaw from the Wizards of Drivel Podcast how the well-financed pre-season title favourites have drifted through two managers to sixteenth in the Championship.
The bookies (and LFW) had Stoke nailed on top two this season after your summer transfer business and Rowett coming in, why hasn't it happened?
Short answer: Rowett himself. After the investment over the summer (not to mention keeping a number of big names), we had hoped for a lot better. In the early games, our defence was a sieve, but then Rowett responded to that by showing virtually no attacking intent. Games became a real chore to watch, and results weren’t much better. It would be harsh to blame everything on Rowett, as our failures in recruitment have been an issue for some time. The players, too, also need to accept a fair share of blame. Too many of them seemed to turn up expecting three points to just come to them.
Rowett, of course, has already left. He's a bit of an odd one, needlessly standoffish at times, with a mixed record - why didn't it work out for him at Stoke?
It’s a mixture of that lack of adventure in games (when on paper, we had the attacking talent to take teams apart), tactical limitations and not having the right personnel in key areas. We needed a centre half with mobility, and got Ashley Williams. We needed someone to step up at right back, and we got Cuco Martina. Also, as frustrations increased, he got more arrogant and started making digs at the fans. I won’t defend everything our fans do at games, but chants of ‘Gary Rowett, your football is shit’ were, unfortunately, accurate.
Things don't look to have immediately improved under Nathan Jones, certainly no sign of new manager bounce. What did you make of that appointment and how's he doing so far?
Despite the lack of bounce, I’m 100% behind this appointment. Jones worked wonders at Luton and he’s got a real commitment to creating a team with a real identity, which we haven’t had in years. His first signings have already improved us. There’s an acknowledgment that the changes he needs to make will take a long time, maybe even until the end of the season after next. That said, a few more results would help cement the good will he’s had already. Winning against Forest last week was an important one in drowning out the voices of the nay-sayers who would have preferred a ‘name’.
Stoke will now enter that race that the likes of us, Villa, Swansea etc are all tackling with various degrees of success/insanity to get back to the Premier League or get your budget cut before the parachutes run out. What needs to happen for a promotion push to materialise next season?
A squad overhaul this summer is a must. We’ll probably have to accept the departures of one or both of Butland and Allen, whilst also finally clearing the decks of the hangers-on. Then, I suppose it’s a case of how long it takes before we truly become a ‘Nathan Jones side’. Like I said, it may not even necessarily happen next season, but it would be fantastic if it could come together.
Stand out players and potential POTY candidates?
Not many players have stood out at all, to be honest. It’s been one of those seasons. I’ve liked Etebo, who’s really come on in recent weeks. Ince has had really good games, but they’re a bit too infrequent. I suspect Joe Allen will win Player of the Year by default, as he did last season, for his sheepdoggish approach to being a midfielder. The likes of Butland, Batth, Edwards and Martins Indi have proven themselves dependable, too.
Weak links in the side?
Well, we’ve managed to shore up the defence recently but we’re still playing without a recognised left back. Bruno Martins Indi (a centre-half) has played there, as has midfielder Sam Clucas. Our biggest issue has been creating chances, and if Ince doesn’t have a strong game we suddenly become incredibly blunt.
The Twitter @wizardsofdrivel, @davidcowlishaw, @loftforwords
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