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Stoke City

Errors continue to cost Stoke City despite improvement under Paul Lambert

Stoke City have proved the makers of their own downfall under Paul Lambert in recent weeks.

Martyn Cooke

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Paul Lambert
Photo: Getty Images

When Stoke City kicked off the season back in August the club were celebrating the start of a tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football.

Now, six months on, the Potters have just ten games left to clamber out of the relegation zone to ensure that their supporters will be travelling to Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge next season rather than the Pirelli Stadium, Oakwell and New Meadow.

Relegation is now staring Stoke straight in the face and the threat of dropping into the Championship is now a very realistic possibility.

Saturday’s draw against Leicester City leaves the club stranded in the relegation zone, albeit only one point from safety as it currently stands, but time and ‘winnable’ games are beginning to run out at an alarming rate.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The appointment of Paul Lambert in January has stimulated a revival of sorts in the Potteries.

The Scotsman has made Stoke more organised, harder to beat and has been busy attempting to find solutions on the training ground with double sessions each week for the players.

However, the improvement in performances has not been reflected by results on the pitch as basic errors continue to undermine the club’s attempts to generate points and build momentum in the closing months of the season.

On Saturday, Stoke appeared to be grinding out an invaluable three points against Leicester at the King Power Stadium with Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning long-range strike, his third in as many matches, giving the Potters an invaluable lead.

Defensively Lambert’s men appeared relatively comfortable, denying both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez the time or space to have any meaningful impact on the game and the hosts were struggling to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

However, Stoke have developed a dangerous habit of shooting themselves in the foot this season.

In their previous fixture, it was Charlie Adam’s late penalty miss that cost the Potters a win against Brighton whilst on Saturday it was Jack Butland’s failure to catch a low cross, instead deflecting it into his own net, that led to two more vital points being dropped.

Had Adam converted from the penalty spot and Butland caught a bread-and-butter cross then Stoke would have four additional points on the board and be well on their way to securing safety.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The reality is that the Potters now face a relegation six-pointer against Southampton at the weekend that they simply need to win. However, it may already be too late.

Since arriving at the Bet365 Stadium Lambert has won just one of his five fixtures, with all of the opposition coming against teams in the bottom half of the table.

Six points from matches against Brighton (home), Huddersfield (home), Watford (home), Bournemouth (away) and Leicester (away) may ultimately not be enough with the club facing a tough run of fixtures to close the season.

In their final ten matches, Stoke face Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – with just one win in their previous nine games it is hard to see the Potters picking up any points from those four contests.

There are then away fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Swansea City, which will undoubtedly be made more difficult by the fact that the club have the worst away record in the top four divisions of English football.

Then, there are crucial must-win home games against Crystal Palace, Everton and Burnley.

To say that there is no longer room for error is an understatement and Stoke can certainly not afford to make the same fundamental mistakes that have cost them vital points in both of their previous two fixtures. In truth, The Potters need a miraculous turn of form, particularly on the road, if they are to have any chance of survival.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

There is still hope, though.

Lambert has made a positive impact since his arrival and there has been an improvement in performances.

Stoke are harder to beat and in Xherdan Shaqiri have someone who is capable of making something out of nothing – the diminutive winger is The Potters’ main creative focal point and his form will have a direct impact on results and, ultimately, the club’s future.

So, Stoke’s tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football has basically come down to a ten-match season where their Premier League status is in need of saving.

All that the supporters can do now is buckle themselves in and get ready for what will undoubtedly be a rollercoaster end to the campaign.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Stoke City

Four Stoke youngsters looking to impress Gary Rowett in Germany

It looks set to be a season of opportunity at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

The Stoke City first team squad are currently in Germany for a six-day training sabbatical as Gary Rowett steps up his preparations for the new campaign and pre-season begins to get into full flow.

The Potters are based in Herzlake, a small village in the north of the country, where the players will be undertaking a more intensive training regime as well as participating in three friendly fixtures.

Rowett has taken 26 players to the pre-season training camp including new signings Benik Afobe, Adam Federici and Peter Etebo in addition to a host of familiar faces.

However, Robert Huth, who has been training with the club over the summer as he builds up his fitness after being released by Leicester City, is not among the travelling party.

There are also some less recognisable names joining Rowett and the first team squad in Germany including four youth team prospects that supporters may not be fully aware of.

Josef Bursik

The 17-year-old started his career with AFC Wimbledon, initially joining the club at the age of eight, and he quickly rose through the youth team ranks at Kingsmeadow. By 2017 he was training with the first team on a regular basis and was named as a substitute against Swindon Town in April that year.

Bursik is an England youth international and has been a regular feature for the under-17 team over the previous twelve months. He played six matches as the side reached the European Championship final in May and was part of the squad that won the under-17 World Cup last year, making him one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the country.

He joined Stoke in the summer of 2017 as a scholar and his performances in the academy, combined with the departure of Lee Grant and the absence of Jack Butland, have convinced Rowett to include him in the party that travelled to Germany.

Harry Souttar

The physically imposing central defender rose through the ranks at Dundee United, cementing himself as a key facet of the club’s development squad, before being promoted to the first team in 2016.

He made his debut in the Scottish Premier League against Partick Thistle before netting his first senior goal just four days later against Kilmarnock.

His rapid progress attracted the interest of a host of Premier League clubs but it was Stoke who were able to secure his signature for an undisclosed fee.

Souttar has continued to impress and develop at the Bet365 Stadium and was handed his senior debut by Mark Hughes in an EFL Cup tie against Rochdale in August 2017.

The 19-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan with Scottish Championship side Ross County in order to gain more first team experience and made a total of 13 appearances.

Stoke are currently short of central defensive options following the departures of Kevin Wimmer, Marc Muniesa and Kurt Zouma, leaving Souttar with the perfect opportunity to impress Rowett whilst in Germany.

Lasse Sorensen

The 18-year-old rose through the ranks with Danish Superliga side Esbjerg fB where he emerged as the club’s outstanding youth team player before completing a move to Stoke in January 2016.

Sorensen has continued to impress at the Bet365 Stadium and his rapid development whilst playing for the under-23 side led to Paul Lambert promoting him to the first team squad at the back end of last season. He was handed his full senior debut in the final match of the season against Swansea City where he played 76 minutes whilst also providing an assist.

The Danish youth international signed a new long-term contract at the start of the summer as a just reward for his progress and has been described as being one of the club’s ‘brightest prospects’.

Furthermore, Rowett has spoken positively of Sorenson and described the midfielder as having ‘all the hallmarks of being a top young player’ and having ‘as good an attitude as any young player’ that he has worked with.

Sorensen will face a difficult challenge to break into the first team squad this season with the likes of Peter Etebo, Joe Allen, Charlie Adam and Giannelli Imbula all above him in the pecking order.

However, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on for the future.

Ryan Sweeney

The Republic of Ireland youth international joined AFC Wimbledon at the age of eight and he subsequently rose through the academy ranks at Kingsmeadow, signing his first professional contract in February 2015.

The central defender made his Football League debut later that year and became of regular feature of the match day squad despite his youth and inexperience. He made a dozen more first team appearances over the next year and a half with his rapid development attracting the interest of a host of Championship an Premier League clubs.

Sweeney signed for Stoke in the summer of 2016 for a fee believed to be in the region of £250,000 but has yet to make his first team debut for the club.

He has spent the last eighteen months on loan with Bristol Rovers where he has made over 40 appearances and is undoubtedly looking to capitalise on the lack of central defensive cover that Rowett currently has in his first team squad.

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How Stoke have become early favourites for promotion

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke
Photo: Getty Images

Loyalty is a commodity that is in short supply in modern football.

The age of players spending their entire careers at one team or managers building a club over a period of time spanning decades is long gone.

Instead, the contemporary game is characterised by players that jump from club to club in search of regular game time or more money and a ‘managerial merry-go-round’ in which over half of managers in English football’s top four tiers will either be sacked or resign by the end of the season.

For players especially, the focus is on being in the Premier League. That is where the glitz, glamour, talent and, ultimately, money is located and there tends to be limited loyalty if a club is relegated from the top tier.

Which makes the recent developments at Stoke City come as a pleasant surprise.

The Potters were relegated in May after a decade-long spell in the Premier League and the general perception was that the club would be stripped of its prized assets over the summer.

Jack Butland, Joe Allen, Xherdan Shaqiri and pretty much anyone else who possessed a significant reputation was linked with a move away from the Bet365 Stadium.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

The fear for supporters was that there would be some kind of fire-sale, leaving the new manager with the unenviable task of starting from scratch and building an almost entirely new squad.

However, that simply has not been the case.

Yes, Xherdan Shaqiri was sold to Liverpool last week, although that was to be expected after it was revealed that he had a relegation-release clause that made him available for just £13 million, and his departure was proceeded by the sales of Ramadan Sobhi and Lee Grant.

But, beyond that, there has been a surprising level of loyalty shown by the majority of the squad.

Gary Rowett’s most impressive feat since being appointed as manager at the start of the summer has not been who he has bought in the transfer window, but rather who he has been able to convince to remain at the Bet365 Stadium.

Joe Allen, who was named in the team of tournament at the European Championships just two years ago, was the first to sign a new long-term deal and commit his future to the club. The Welsh midfielder certainly would not have been short of options this summer and his decision to remain is a significant statement of intent.

He was then followed by Moritz Bauer, who signed a new contract earlier this month. The 26-year-old only arrived in January but has been quick to commit to the challenge of securing promotion from the Championship despite being hugely impressive during his 15 appearances in the Premier League last season.

Furthermore, Peter Crouch has signalled his intention to stay after suggesting that he had ‘unfinished business’, whilst the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Eric Pieters and Mame Biram Diouf all appear willing to stay.

Rowett revealed over the weekend that he is hoping to convince Bojan Krkic to remain at the club and return to his best after his loan spell in Spain ended and there are whispers that Jack Butland might also be willing to scrap it out for a year in the second tier.

Somewhat bizarrely, it is not inconceivable that Stoke will start the campaign with a stronger, more balanced squad of players than the one that ended the previous season in the Premier League.

It is perhaps no surprise to see Stoke among the favourites with betting companies to be promoted although there is certainly still plenty of work to be done.

However, Rowett has started to build an intimidating squad of players that is full of experience and quality. He has not achieved this through splashing vast arrays of cash in the transfer marker, but rather by convincing existing big-name players to remain at the club.

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Gary Rowett opens the door for Robert Huth’s return to Stoke

Martyn Cooke

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Robert Huth
Photo: Getty Images

Stoke City boss Gary Rowett has opened the door for Robert Huth to return to the club on a permanent basis as the central defender continues to train with the first team squad as he attempts to regain his fitness.

The German was released by Leicester City at the end of last season following a hugely successful three-year stint at the King Power Stadium which included their historic Premier League title triumph in 2016.

Subsequently, he approached Stoke at the start of the summer and has been allowed to train with Rowett’s squad whilst he looks for a new club.

Huth remains a popular figure at the Bet365 Stadium having made over 150 appearances for The Potters over the period of half-a-decade following a £5 million transfer from Middlesbrough in 2009.

The 33-year-old formed a dominant central defensive partnership with Ryan Shawcross that provided the solid foundation on which the club’s modern success was built.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The notion of Huth re-signing for Stoke is a romantic concept, one that many Stoke supporters will be keen to see, and Rowett told the Stoke Sentinel that the door is still open for the German defender.

“He’s coming to train. We’ll see how it is for both parties and we’ll assess it as we go along … We’ll try to help him and that’s where we are at the moment. I don’t think there’s any real rush to make a decision.”

“There’s no strings attached for either party but come in and train, we’ll get you involved – we’re a little bit short in terms of numbers in that area anyway.”

Stoke are currently short of central defensive options following the departures of Kevin Wimmer (on loan to Hannover 96), Marc Muniesa (who has signed for Girona) and Kurt Zouma (who returned to Chelsea following the conclusion of his loan spell) as the club adapts to life outside the Premier League.

With that in mind, Huth’s availability as a free agent and his pre-existing standing within the club makes him an attractive option as Rowett continues to re-mould his squad in preparation for the new season. He has already featured heavily in Stoke’s early pre-season activities and fixtures whilst he is also likely to be joining the club on their tour of Germany.

However, Rowett is right to be cautious about signing the German defender.

Huth did not make a single appearance for Leicester last season as he struggled with a string of injuries and fell considerably down the pecking order at the King Power Stadium whilst, at 33 years of age, he is stepping into the twilight of his career.

Could he realistically adapt to the physical demands of the Championship where there is a requirement to play two matches most weeks as part of a demanding fixture schedule?

Furthermore, Stoke should be looking to the future rather than attempting to recreate previous glories.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Whilst Huth remains a legend in the eyes of supporters he would only provide a short-term solution and will undoubtedly return as a very different player than the one that last played at the Bet365 Stadium in 2015.

Rowett is quite rightly looking to bring in a new generation of young, fresh and hungry talent which will be led by new signing Oghenekaro Etebo, Nigeria’s 21-year-old World Cup star. Does Huth fit within those parameters? Probably not.

Whilst Huth’s return may be a somewhat romantic notion that would certain provide a short-term solution to the club’s lack of defensive cover, on a practical level which looks at the long-term in would leave much to be desired.

Ultimately, much may depend, as it so often does in football, on money.

Stoke have already made significant moves in the transfer market following the arrivals of Etebo and Benik Afobe whilst they have been linked with a string of other big-money signings.

Without the safety net of Premier League TV revenue the signing of Huth on a free transfer could allow Rowett to focus his investment on strengthening other areas of the team.

So the door is certainly open for Huth to return on a permanent basis, although Rowett will need to decide whether his focus is on the short-term or long-term future of the club.

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