Next Stoke boss is club’s most critical appointment







Photo by Graham Hogg reproduced under this Creative Commons Licence

It’s been two seasons since Stoke City crashed out of the Premier League. They have not shown any sign of mounting a challenge to get back in the top flight. 2019/20 has been a nightmare for them, and they are currently bottom of the Championship and without a manager. Just whom they appoint to replace Nathan Jones is one of the most important decisions in their history.

A club in decline

Stoke City had been a Premier League club since 2008 but never managed to finish any higher than ninth. Their only shot at glory came when reaching the 2010/11 FA Cup final. They lost to Manchester City but went on to reach the last 32 of the Europa League in 2011/12.

Those days are becoming a distant memory for Stoke fans. It’s 27 years since they last played in the third tier of English football. However, there is a real danger that next season they could be playing Tranmere Rovers and Accrington Stanley –ask Ipswich or struggling Portsmouth fans what that’s like.

Stoke have been in this situation before, however. In 1985 they were relegated from the old First Division and five years later ended up bottom of Division Two and sent into the Third Division.

No impact last season

For a while, Stoke have looked to be a club that have been a struggling one. Back in the Championship last season, the Potters never looked like making an immediate return to the Premier League.

They finished a disappointing 16th in the table and didn’t make it past the third round of either the FA or Carabao Cups. Stoke ended last season 19 points behind the final play-off position but 15 above the bottom three. Only five away league games have been won in the last two seasons, though 13 were drawn last term.

Bottom of the table

They have just eight points this season, and Monday saw caretaker boss Rory Delap lead them to a 2-0 home defeat by West Brom. They are now bottom of the table and six points from safety. Up next is an away game at Barnsley, just one place above them in the table.  Defeat will see them four points adrift at the bottom. With Stoke among the favourites to go down, something must change. The fact they are 12/5 to be relegated illustrates the trouble they are in, and the bookies are rarely wrong.

Since January 2018, Stoke have had six managers (including two caretakers), number seven is on his way. Nathan Jones replaced Gary Rowett last season, controversially moving from Luton Town. His reign lasted 38 games with a win rate of just 15.79%. The worst since a disastrous spell with Chris Kamara in charge.

Jones left the club last week with Stoke in the relegation zone, but they have been struggling for a long time.  Only four of their last 30 league games have been won, and they have failed to score in their last three. Stoke are a relegation waiting to happen unless they can appoint a manager to save them.

Who’s next?

They need a boss who knows the Championship inside out. Their first attempt at securing a replacement was Preston manager Alex Neil. That didn’t delight Preston who are second in the table and have reported Stoke for an allegedly illegal approach for their manager. And Neil is staying put.

One man who does know this league well is former manager Tony Pulis. He’s managed Stoke twice being in charge for 464 games of which 169 were won. Fans who love attacking football might not want to see Pulis return to the club. Then again, they don’t want to see Stoke relegated to League One.

A solid appointment would be Chris Hughton who left Brighton at the end of last season. He led both The Seagulls and Newcastle United to promotion from the Championship. If Stoke want to turn the club around, then he would be an excellent hire.

Fans have been calling for club legend Jonathan Walters to take over. Yes, he knows the club well, but City need an experienced boss who can get them out of trouble, a sentimental appointment isn’t required.

Relegation to League One would be a disaster for them, both on and off the pitch. There’s the danger they will panic and make a swift appointment. This is a crucial moment in their history; they must choose the right replacement.