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Mad stats, mental fragility & medical issues add up to midtable for Stoke - Interview
Thursday, 21st Apr 2022 15:14 by Clive Whittingham

A whopping 32 points lost from winning positions, and yet another mid-season injury list, has once again marooned Stoke in the middle of the Championship. We caught up with Dan Buxton from the Every Step Along The Way Podcast and regular contributor Harvey Todd.

How's the season gone for Stoke?

DB: Started well with a young vibrant side playing attacking one touch football but has slowly fallen into turgid, grind it out football.

HT: Could’ve gone better for sure. Last time we met in December we were sixth and were playing some good stuff. Unfortunately a COVID outbreak hit shortly after which hindered us over Christmas and New Year, partnered with some poor form through February and March has seen us slip down the league. Our form recently has picked up which is good to see to hopefully build some positive momentum into next season.

Stoke league results thus far…
Stoke 3-2 Reading Powell 25, Brown 28, Surridge 85 – Swift 26, Moore 60
Birmingham 0-0 Stoke
Swansea 1-3 Stoke Piroe 73 – Powell 15, Clucas 53, Ostigard 60
Stoke 1-0 Forest Tymon 66
Fulham 3-0 Stoke Wilson 5, Reid 53, Mitrovic 72
Stoke 2-1 Huddersfield Brown 50, Pearson og 63 – Toffolo 47
Stoke 1-1 Barnsley Surridge 17 – Woodrow 38
Derby 2-1 Stoke Bird 31, Davies 34 – Ince 58
Stoke 2-0 Hull Vrancic 35, Powell 58
Preston 1-1 Stoke Whiteman 38 – Powell 6
Stoke 1-0 West Brom Powell 79
Sheff Utd 2-1 Stoke Mousset 80, McGoldrick 83 – Brown 55
Stoke 0-1 Bournemouth Solanke 51
Millwall 2-1 Stoke Bradshaw 51, 61 – Sawyers 21
Stoke 3-3 Cardiff Brown 9, Fletcher 16, 46 – Colwill 66, Harris 70, Moore 71
Blackpool 0-1 Stoke Fletcher 79
Luton 0-1 Stoke Brown 34
Stoke 2-0 Peterborough Vrancic 3, Campbell 90
Bristol City 1-0 Stoke Bakinson 36
Stoke 0-1 Blackburn Khadra 52
QPR 0-2 Stoke Campbell 14, Vrancic 78
Stoke 0-0 Middlesbrough
Stoke 1-2 Derby Ince 78 – Plange 16, Kazim-Richards 85
Stoke 1-2 Preston Wilmot 46 – Potts 59, Hughes 81
Hull 0-2 Stoke Brown 22, Ince 50
Stoke 2-3 Fulham Wright-Phillips 1, Baker 58 – Muniz 2, 33, Reid 72
Coventry 1-0 Stoke Gyokeres 68
Huddersfield 1-1 Stoke Koroma 27 – Brown 78
Stoke 3-0 Swansea Philodene-Bidace 47, Baker pen 59, Brown 78
Forest 2-2 Stoke Johnson 56, Yates 90 – Maja 68, Baker pen 88
Stoke 2-2 Birmingham Campbell 25, 52 – James 12, Gardner 58
Stoke 1-2 Luton Baker 90 – Hylton 56, Jerome 81
Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke Solanke 83, Lowe 89 – Smith 20
Stoke 0-1 Blackpool Bowler 86
Barnsley 1-1 Stoke Quina 70 – Baker 90
Peterborough 2-2 Stoke Clarke-Harris 33, pen 90 – Brown 28, Baker pen 84
Cardiff 2-1 Stoke Doyle 39, Hugill 43 – Baker 23
Stoke 2-0 Millwall Brown 19, Saville og 70
Stoke 1-0 Sheff Utd Egan og 77
Reading 2-1 Stoke Morrison 13, Harwood-Bellis og 63 – Sawyers 44
West Brom 1-3 Stoke Robinson 73 – Livermore og 16, Brown 59, Baker 90
Stoke 0-1 Bristol City Dasilva 84
Blackburn 0-1 Stoke Brown 4

Steadfastly midtable, what has kept you from pushing for the play offs?

DB: Home form, possibly due to crowd unrest and players feeling unable to make a mistake without the boos ringing around the ground. That and also injuries - we were flying high in third in October then lost Bursik, Souttar and Thompson on international duty and then Powell and Sawyers within a few weeks so theywhole spine of the side was taken out and we had to change how we play. Oh, and just to top it off we’ve lost 32 points from winning positions.

HT: Injuries, again. Souttar suffering a serious ACL injury in November has seen our defensive solidity become weaker. Injuries to creative sparks in Mario Vrancic, Nick Powell and Romaine Sawyers had seen us struggle to put games to bed. We’ve also dropped more than 30 points from winning positions. As fans can accept we won’t hold on to every lead but it’s really frustrating to see us take leads within the final five minutes and end up drawing as we had done on occasions this season.

Thoughts on the manager's performance?

DB: I think he deserves another season at least. He inherited an absolute mess from an accumulation of the previous 3/4 managers and it’s taken until this summer to sort that out. For a long time we were paying more wages to players out on loan than to ones in the squad but those contracts will have all ended this summer so he’ll have a little more room to bring in that little extra ability.

HT: Overall I still back Michael O’Neill. I think he’s done a tremendous job so far and I’m excited to see what next season brings.

Would you keep him on? Any alternatives catching the eye?

DB: None for me, I think when he came in it was a case of a four-year plan and it’s unfair to judge him when he’s done the bulk of the hard work budget wise and has yet to have the free reign that previous managers did, although FFP will mean he’ll never get those levels in this league.

HT: I’d keep him because he’s come the closest to getting us up, and one time it will stick. Only Sean Dyche and Chris Wilder would be my ideal replacement if we were to part ways with O’Neill but I’m happy with the man in charge at the moment.

A busy summer ahead? What's the contracts situation?

DB: We have a whole lot of players out of contract, including Joe Allen and his reported 57k a week wages, but do have a couple of extension options, including Nick Powell thankfully, but the manager has proven himself to be ruthless when moving on Sam Surridge six months after signing him so if he feels there is better value for money elsewhere those players out of contract may find themselves looking for a new club. I’m sure we’ll look to bring Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Taylor Harwood-Bellis back on loan again, whether we can is another matter though, whilst it’ll be interesting to see if they feel Josh Maja is worth the £3.5m option we have in his loan deal with finances likely to be restricted.

HT: We have quite a few players out of contract this summer, most of whom I’d let go (mostly due to wages). Most signings from our first Championship window will depart this summer (Ince, Etebo, Afobe) and a few players from our second season. I’d love to keep Joe Allen around because during the second half of the season he’s been fantastic, but he’s still on healthy Premier League wages. Jordan Thompson is someone who I really hope pens a new deal as he’s a very tidy midfielder who has worked well so far, but unfortunately hasn’t seen a consistent run of games.

Summer Ins >>> Sam Surridge, 23, ST, Bournemouth, £2.6m >>> Ben Wilmot, 21, CB, Watford, £1.9m >>> Mario Vrancic, 32, CM, Norwich, Free >>> Jack Bonham, 27, GK, Gillingham, Free >>> Abdallah Sima, 20, RW, Brighton, Loan Leo Ostigard, 21, CB, Brighton, Loan >>> Romaine Sawyers, 29, CM, West Brom, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Nathan Collins, 20, CB, Burnley, £12.6m >>> Bruno Martins Indi, 29, CB, AZ Alkmaar, Undisclosed >>> Liam Lindsay, 25, CB, Preston, Undisclosed >>> Lasse Sorensen, 21, CM, Lincoln, Undisclosed >>> Badou Ndiaye, 29, CM, Aris Saloniki, Undisclosed >>> Kevin Wimmer, 28, CB, Rapid Vienna, Free >>> Jordan Cousins, 27, CM, Wigan, Free >>> Ryan Woods, 27, CM, Birmingham, Free >>> Moritz Bauer, 29, RB, UFA (Russia), Free >>> John Obi Mikel, 34, CM, Kuwait SC, Free >>> Sam Vokes, 31, CF, Wycombe, Free >>> Benik Afobe, 28, CF, Millwall, Loan >>> Peter Etebo, 25, CM, Watford, Loan >>> Blondy Nna Noukeu, 19, GK, Crawley, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Phil Jagielka, 39, CB, Derby, Free >>> Lewis Baker, 26, CM, Chelsea, Undisclosed >>> Josh Maja, 23, CF, Bordeaux, Loan >>> Liam Moore, 29, CB, Reading, Loan >>> Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 19, CB, Man City, Loan >>> Jaden Philodene-Bidace, 19, LW, Villa, Loan >>> Frank Fielding, 33, GK, Unattached, Free

Winter Outs >>> Sam Surridge, 23, CF, Forest, £1.6m >>> Adam Davies, 29, GK, Sheff Utd, £270k >>> Danny Baath, 31, CB, Sunderland, Undisclosed >>> Tom Edwards, 23, RB, New York RB, Loan >>> Tom Ince, 30, RW, Reading, Loan >>> Alfie Doughty, 22, LW, Cardiff, Loan >>> Frank Fielding, 33, GK, Salford, Loan

Is there hope for improvement, or will FFP become an issue given the dire financial losses in the accounts?

DB: Yeah we’re getting a lot better with regards to FFP but still going to have to watch what we spend for another 12 months or so. Luckily all contracts from the Premier League and the first season in the Championship, where we spent merely £60m, will have ended and with the contracts handed out since then being much more in line with the current levels of income we’ve hopefully got scope for a bit more freedom. I also think as the post-covid world continues to bite there may be a reduction is what wages clubs at this level are able/willing to pay which lets face it would help us all in the long term

HT: It looks like we won’t have millions upon millions to spend again, but some more of O’Neill’s smart signings will be crucial this summer - Brown and Baker are perfect examples. A right-wing-back (like Tymon) would be great as well as a left-sided ball-playing centre back.

Player of the season candidates?

DB: Lewis Baker has been sensational since he signed in January, 8 goals in 17 games which we believe makes him the third top scorer in the division in that time (not bad for a DM) but not just that his drive and professionalism have taken others with him so that bodes well going forward. Harry Souttar was possibly up there as the best CB in the league, along with Rob Dickie at the time, before he did his ACL playing for Australia in October so those two would have been up there had they played more but I’d say it’s between Josh Tymon and Jacob Brown. Both players were probably expected to be bit part players this season but have come along massively. Tymon has found his role as wing back which allows him to play to his strengths of using his pace and getting crosses in from any angle whilst there being less focus on his defensive work, which is probably the weaker side of his game. Brown has been a player who, despite being slightly limited technically, gives 100% every week and his pressing from the front sets the tone for the rest of the side. He had the engine last season but has now added goals to his game this season and 13 so far is the highest a Stoke player has managed since 2008. I’d say though that, although Brown is bang in form now, Tymon has delivered slightly more this season and takes the award from me

HT: Brown or Tymon for me, both have their merits. Tymon was written off by a lot of Stoke fans a few years ago but he’s been one of our most exciting players this season. Brown in attack had a rocky debut season in red and white but has come on leaps and bounds. Both players will be key once again next season. Baker who we signed in January would be my third choice, and could’ve easily broken 20+ goal contributions from midfield had he played the whole campaign.

Weak links in the side?

DB: Mental fragility would be the biggest weakness we’ve got (as you can guess from 32pts dropped from winning positions). Until last week we hadn’t won a game we had conceded in since early September as well which shows that when we concede one, a second inevitably has followed. Probably a mixture of youthful inexperience and a home crowd all too happy to turn unfortunately.

HT: Defensively our right-side can be suspect. Most of the goals we’ve conceded this year have come down that flank. Tommy Smith’s deliveries are up there with the best in the league but his positioning at times has been really poor.

Links >>> Stoke City official website >>> Stoke Sentinel – Local press >>> The Oatcake – Message Board >>> The Wizards of Drivel – Podcast >>> Every Step Along The Way – Podcast

The Twitter @loftforwords, @HarveySCFC_, @everystepalong

Pictures – Action Images

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toboboly added 16:48 - Apr 21
You'd be having kittens at the Sam Surridge & Frank Fielding signings
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toboboly added 16:49 - Apr 21
That was more a collective "you" than a you "you"
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Patrick added 20:41 - Apr 21
Sounds like first goal really REALLY important.
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Northernr added 22:40 - Apr 21
You would though, you're right. :-D
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nix added 10:29 - Apr 23
£57k blimey! That's probably worth six of our better players salaries!!!! No wonder we can't compete on wages and so many players we're after end up playing for other teams.
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TacticalR added 13:47 - Apr 23
Thanks to Dan and Harvey.

It sounds like Stoke have some decent players coming through under O'Neill. Vrančić doesn't get much of a mention here, but he was the one pulling the creative strings for Stoke at Loftus Road earlier this season.
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