Saturday’s away victory at Sunderland propelled Mark Hughes’ Stoke side to ninth in the table and with that everything was right in the world. Since the Welsh manager took control of the team from Tony Pulis, the Potters league finishes has a ring of a 90’s TV show fronted by Michael Burke.
But is all as content as it seems? If we look closer into the season so far, Stoke city are on 27 points, but 12 of these have come from wins against the current bottom three. Add to this two wins against Watford who are on a terrible run and a home win against Burnley, which lets face it, given Burnley’s one away goal all season, isn’t much to shout about. Only two points so far this season have come from a team above them. They can’t even beat West Brom anymore, and Stoke always, always beat West Brom.
You have to go back to 2013 to find a similar points tally at the half way mark in the season. In Hughes’ first year in charge he amassed 21 points in 18 games, to then add a further 29 in the second half. He can be forgiven for a slow start to their career at Stoke, given that it came with a change in style of play. Out went the long throws and lofty target men. These were all to be replaced by small, technically gifted players with more Champions’ League wins than many current entrants to the competition.
This season, however, is like de ja vu for many regular visitors to the Bet365 stadium. A slow start to a career can be forgiven, but there is an air of things slowing down at the moment. One of the more technical players, Bojan, takes a seat in the stands and rumours of a January switch to Middlesbrough could see the Spaniard moved on. He was an un-droppable player this time last year, before an injury lay off. Peter Crouch now has as many goals this season as Bojan, and with a year extension to his contract, he will likely end with more. That is unless Harry Redknapp can take over a club within driving distance of his current residence.
Only time will tell what happens next and Stoke are not among the worst three teams in the league. Football can be a funny game at times though, and with games against weaker opposition running out, points could be harder to come by. It is difficult to see the league position improving from here, the top six already 13 points ahead and not likely to drop many more. There is a case to make that they may only pick up a handful more points until April when Hull come to the Bet365, and by that time the slide could be difficult to arrest.
For many Stoke fans, those who remember the days of the difficult climb back from Division Two, the league position is fine. Even as I write this I am not calling for change or knee jerk reactions, but in this game there is always someone looking to take your place. Look at the former established teams of the Premier League. Fulham, Bolton, Leeds have all dined at the highest table, but now find themselves in a struggle to make the playoffs. Swansea, now finding that they too could join that list, show that no ones position is certain.
Stoke have more than enough to be safe, even by simply going through the motions come the spring. But if things continue this way there may be more than wet weather coming to a Tuesday night in Stoke.