Apr 17, 2017
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Patience wearing thin but Stoke still on track with Mark Hughes

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It is a well-known fact that the Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in world football. For the teams who are able to secure promotion, they are well aware that achievement is only half the battle, with the next step of becoming an established club even harder to achieve.

When a level of stability is achieved, it does not take long for the ambition of the fans to take hold and this is currently the case in regards to Stoke City.

While many teams suffer from an inferiority complex when coming up from the Championship, Stoke were battle hardened and so were their supporters. The Britannia Stadium was a feared venue for any opposition who knew they were going to be in for one hell of a game when facing Tony Pulis’ team of warriors.

If you were able to cope with the long throws from Rory Delap, then you had to engage in a physical tussle with the likes of Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie. Stoke built their plan for survival around an insatiable work ethic which was demanded by Pulis, and although their football was far from pretty, it managed to get them results and a number of big scalps along the way.

Pulis achieved five consecutive years reaching the 40 point landmark, but only on one occasion did they reach 40 goals in a season. His brand of attritional football had reached its use-by date and it was time for a change of approach. Pulis was replaced with fellow Welshman Mark Hughes for the 2013/14 season.

Hughes started his managerial career at the international level with Wales before moving into club management. Hughes impressed many observers with the job he did at Blackburn which led to his move to Manchester City.

While he had some good moments at City, a poor run of form saw him replaced by Roberto Mancini after just over a season in charge. From there he had ill-fated stops at Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, albeit for differing reasons.

Guiding Fulham to an eight placed finish in his first and only year at the club was a fantastic achievement, but it was the way he exited the club that left a sour taste in many people’s mouths at the West London club.

After thinking he had the managerial world at his feet, reality had struck for Hughes as there was minimal interest around the league for his services. Eventually he took the job at QPR, which was not a coveted job. Nonetheless, it was a managerial post in the Premier League.

Hughes had a forgettable tenure at the club, just escaping relegation on the final day of the season, and after making some questionable signings at the start of the 2012/13 campaign, was shown the exit door in November after going 12 games without a victory.

At this point, the managerial reputation of Hughes was considerably damaged and needed a fair bit of rehabilitation. Reaction by Stoke fans to his appointment was underwhelming, to say the least, but the Welshman had plans to bring a sense of footballing style to the Potteries while keeping the grit and determination that they are known for.

In his first three seasons, Hughes guided Stoke to consecutive ninth-placed finishes, while signing players the quality of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic, and Bojan to the club and phasing out some of loyal servants along the way.

More recently they have added the trio of Bruno Martins Indi, Giannelli Imbula and Saido Berahino to their ranks. Once that type of talent arrives at the club, it is unquestionable that the expectation rises among the fanbase.

Stoke have had a season which has failed to get going at any stage. It took them until October to record their first victory of the campaign against Sunderland, and a team who thrives themselves on taking it up to the ‘big teams’ have had little success in that regard this season.

As the season has progressed, the rumblings have grown over the which direction the club is heading.

The frustration seemed to reach its highest level after defeat to Liverpool. The Reds were not at their strongest, as they were missing a number of key players through injury, so it was seen as the perfect opportunity to claim a big scalp this season.

Nonetheless, the Potters fell to their fourteenth loss of the season in a lacklustre second half display, and the result has raised some doubts among the Stoke faithful regarding Hughes’ tenure. A main frustration among the fans seems to be that he has not changed his system in responsr to setbacks or integrated enough youngsters into the squad this season.

In this day and age where patience is in short supply and fan power is growing, the main question is it fair for there to be speculation about the tenure of Hughes?

The Potters have produced some poor performances especially away from home. However, they still sit eight points from the drop zone and conventional wisdom says they should be safe and record their ninth straight season in the Premier League.

In the Premier League you need to know where your place is. An example that Stoke can look to is Everton, who have only missed finishing in the top ten twice in the last 11 seasons.

The Merseyside club know that they cannot attract the level of talent of the top six clubs in the league, but aim to be the top team of the next tier.

Stoke can aim for a similar position of their own in the seasons ahead. While they do not have the pedigree of Everton, it is testament to their progression that they have been able to attract the level of players they have done to the club over the last couple of years.

Making a managerial change just for sake of it has been shown to be a major risk for clubs in the past.

In his managerial reign with Stoke, Hughes has taken them to a new level and in management you are bound to go through your share of ups and downs along the way. One below-par season does not make you a bad manager and The Potters should keep the faith with Hughes.

In terms of the Welshman, he should assess where things have gone wrong, look to address the faults in the summer, and come back with a positive mindset to guide the Potters up the table once again.

@jayharry80

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Stoke City

I have had a passion for Football for as long as I can remember and in particular Liverpool FC. There have been many ups and downs in supporting the Reds over the years, but I would not change a thing about it. I have recently completed a Journalism degree and being able to write about Football is a dream come true.

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