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Four reasons why Stoke City supporters have lost patience with Mark Hughes

Martyn Cooke

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As the fourth official held up the electronic board to announce three minutes of additional time at the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday evening the swathes of empty seats around the ground told its own story.

Liverpool’s third goal of the evening, scored by Mohamed Salah in the eighty-third minute, sparked a mass exodus of home supporters that would have left Mark Hughes, Peter Coates and the Stoke City squad under no illusions about what the Potters’ fans think about the club’s current predicament.

Those that did stay until the end of the contest responded to the final whistle with a chorus of boos that encapsulated the frustration that is currently felt around the Bet365 Stadium.

Stoke are in a relegation battle, although many pundits and journalists have yet to recognise the cliff edge that the club stands upon, and Hughes’ position as manager continues to look increasingly insecure with each passing game.

The supporters are not in open revolt just yet, and victory over a struggling Swansea City at the weekend might have slightly eased the pressure. However, a growing number of the club’s followers have lost patience with their Welsh manager and it appears to be just a matter of time before Hughes becomes the sixth top-flight manager to receive his P45.

Here, The Boot Room explain four reasons why Stoke City supporters have lost patience with Mark Hughes.

Eighteen months of poor results

It was not the defeat or the manner of the performance against Liverpool that has left some supporters demanding managerial change at the Bet365 Stadium, but rather the fact that Stoke City have been in terminal decline for at least eighteen months.

The warning signs were there for all to see last season. The Potters ended the campaign in the bottom half of the table for the first time since Tony Pulis’ departure four years previously and the team finished significantly closer to the relegation zone than a Europa League qualification spot.

Stoke won just eleven games all season, five of which came against teams that were relegated, and failed to offer any real resistance against the so-called ‘big-six’ clubs.

This season has picked up where the previous campaign left off. The club has won just three of their opening fourteen league fixtures and were knocked out of the League Cup by what was effectively Bristol City’s reserve team.

The loss against Liverpool was preceded by a last-minute defeat against bottom of the table Crystal Palace on Saturday, with victory over an equally struggling Swansea this weekend only serving to ease the huge pressure the manager is undoubtedly facing.

Long-term, the statistics do not make for good reading.

Mark Hughes has overseen just seven wins in Stoke’s last 31 games and, going further back, just 20 wins in their previous 67 matches. There is no doubt that the team have been regressing and performing poorly for a prolonged period of time.

Defensive fragility

There was once a time when Stoke City were renowned for being hard to break down and difficult to beat, yet the team’s current defensive record is nothing short of shambolic.

The Potters have the joint-worst defensive record in the top-flight, alongside West Ham United.

Stoke’s back-line has been breached 30 times in 15 matches, averaging at least two a game. This means that, fundamentally, the team need to score at least twice each time they take to the pitch just to be in with a chance of earning a point.

Clean sheets are a distant memory for supporters and the team seem completely incapable of doing the basics of defending, consistently making school-boy errors and poor decisions.

Again, this is certainly nothing new and the team’s defensive fragility was apparent last season as well.

Stoke conceded four goals on seven separate occasions in the Premier League last year and have been knocked for seven and four by Manchester City and Chelsea respectively already this season.

That record will only continue to diminish and the Potters still have unappealing trips to Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Wembley and the Emirates to look forward to in the New Year.

Square pegs in round holes

Chelsea’s title triumph last season using a 3-4-3 formation has seen an increasing number of English clubs begin to experiment with different systems – including Stoke.

Mark Hughes has implemented a new look system this campaign at the Bet365 Stadium but it appears that the tactical tinkering has only resulting in performances becoming worse.

Quite simply, The Potters do not have the personnel to suit the new system and Hughes has resorted to trying to force square pegs into round holes for much of the season.

First, Stoke currently do not have any senior players that are suited to playing as wingbacks, arguably the most important positions in the 3-4-3 formation.

Eric Pieters has yet to acclimatise to his new role, lacking the technical ability or creativity to be an influence in the final third of the pitch and looking uncomfortable defensively without the security of a winger in front of him, whilst Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, has been bizarrely shoe-horned in at right-wingback.

The Potters conceded the majority of their goals from wide areas and it is not hard to see why.

Meanwhile, Hughes has been chopping and changing his attacking trio with reckless abandon since the summer and seems incapable of identifying a suitable player to lead the line as an out-and-out centre forward.

Saido Berahino, Peter Crouch, Jese Rodriguez, Mame Biram Diouf and Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting have all been deployed as the ‘lone’ striker since the start of the season and it is telling that all have looked increasingly isolated in the current formation.

In short, Hughes needs to select a formation and system that suits the players at his disposal rather than trying to shoe-horn strikers into right-wingback or convert wingers into centre forwards.

It was noticeable that the Potters played significantly better against Liverpool on Wednesday evening when the 3-4-3 formation was scrapped and they played 4-4-2.

Wasted money in the transfer market

Stoke are certainly not renowned for splashing huge amounts of money in the transfer market and it is easy to understand why chairman Peter Coates might be cautious of handing Mark Hughes the cheque book based on his recent record in the transfer market.

The Welshman has continuously wasted money over the last two years and three of the club’s recent high-profile signings are either struggling to break into the starting eleven or have been shipped out on loan.

Stoke’s record signing, Giannelli Imbula, was signed for £18.3 million just under two years ago but is currently plying his trade in France on a season-long loan, whilst Saido Berahino, signed for £12 million last January, has yet to score for the club and last got on the score sheet over 600 days ago – a major goal draught for a striker supposedly signed to solve the club’s goal scoring dilemma.

Even Kevin Wimmer, a £18 million purchase in the summer, has failed to impress or hold down a regular spot in the starting eleven.

That is almost £50 million that Hughes has spent on players that have yet to make any kind of significant impact at the Bet365 Stadium, a huge sum for any mid-table Premier League club.

It is impossible for any manager to get every transfer deal right, but the fact that Hughes’ last three big-money signings have all flopped highlights his poor decision making in the transfer market.

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.

Aston Villa

Should Paul Lambert consider a Gabriel Agbonlahor reunion at Stoke City?

The Stoke City boss got the best out of Agbonlahor at times during his spell at Aston Villa.

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Reports in the press this week are suggesting that Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor may decide to retire from the sport this summer. The Sun is suggesting the striker may decide to hang up his boots this summer should he not receive an offer he deems appropriate.

The former England international is out of contract in the summer and his club has little or no interest in keeping him at Villa Park. After coming through the ranks at the club, Agbonlahor will bring an end to his 17-year association with Aston Villa.

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The striker has struggled with his fitness in recent years and his form has also dropped dramatically but, at just 31-years-old, it would be a strange move to quit altogether.

What Agbonlahor needs is to work with a former boss of his who got some of the best out of him. Paul Lambert had such an impact at Aston Villa. Agbonlahor pushed for an England recall in 2013 under the guidance of the Scottish manager. Lambert had him leaner and smarter in attack and generally, it was a good working relationship.

So could Lambert hand him a life-line?

Lambert looks like he will be managing in the Championship next season. The Stoke City boss saw his side draw 1-1 with Burnley today. The gap between the Potters and survival is getting no smaller.

In order to return to the top-flight Stoke will need some new recruits and Agbonlahor could be perfect.

(Photo credit should read GRAHAM STUART/AFP/Getty Images)

Whilst not the player he was five years ago, the experienced attacker has played just six times this season, scoring one goal, this is still a player who was a Premier League star under Lambert’s rule just five years ago.

Of course, he won’t be outpacing many players these days. But his experience and nous could be a vital addition to Stoke’s cause if they are fighting to return to the Premier League next season.

If Lambert can get Agbonlahor anywhere near his best, then the Potters would be on to a winner.

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Stoke City

Stoke City are facing a relegation scenario entirely of their own making

It has been a miserable season for Stoke City fans.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Stoke City may have started the season celebrating the start of their tenth successive campaign in the top flight of English football but defeat against Everton now leaves the club facing the increasingly likely prospect of relegation.

The Potters are short of quality, form and confidence whilst they are quickly running out of time to save themselves with a miraculous turn of fortune and form required in the closing months of the season if they are to pull off a ‘great escape’ of their own.

The contest against Everton was the latest in a long line of ‘must win’ games in which Stoke have, quite simply, failed to win.

Paul Lambert has now won just one of his eight matches in charge since being appointed as Mark Hughes successor despite being handed a favourable run of fixtures that included games against Huddersfield Town, Brighton, Southampton, Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester City and Everton.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Results are unlikely to improve in the near future, with Stoke facing Arsenal and Tottenham in their next two games.

Lambert has certainly not been helped by the catastrophic decisive errors that his players have been making on the pitch.

Against Everton, Charlie Adam was sent off in the first half for a rash, reckless and needless sliding challenge on Wayne Rooney with Stoke having been the better team in the opening stages of the contest.

Adam has already been the pantomime villain this season, missing a last-minute penalty against Brighton that would have guaranteed victory, whilst Jack Butland, quite literally, threw the three points away against Leicester when he fumbled a cross into his own goal.

To say that Stoke have not helped themselves would be an understatement – in reality, they have shot themselves in both feet multiple times, repeatably.

You could argue that relegation will not come as a major surprise. A ten-year stint in the Premier League is a significant achievement for a club of Stoke’s stature and size whilst the fans have certainly had plenty to celebrate, including an FA Cup Final appearance and Europe League tour.

Perhaps the club’s shelf life has simply expired and it is naturally Stoke’s turn to drop into the second tier as part of English football’s Lion King-esque ‘Circle of Life’.

However, the reality is that Stoke’s current predicament is entirely of their own making and there are plenty of villains to choose from.

Mark Hughes will rightly receive the brunt of the blame.

The Welshman led The Potters to three consecutive top-ten finished for the first time in over a century, but the final eighteen months of his reign were characterised by bizarre tactics and a deterioration of results.

This was exemplified by Hughes’ insistence on playing a 3-4-3 formation this season despite not having the personnel that suited the system, with Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, forced to operate as a wing back.

However, the club hierarchy must also take a large portion of the blame.

Despite the majority of Stoke supporters recognising that the team were spiralling towards the relegation zone, chairman Peter Coates appeared oblivious to any danger.

In December, he told the Staffordshire Sentinel that he “did not understand what all of the fuss was about”, demonstrating either an outstanding level of complacency or that the club hierarchy were completely out of touch with reality.

Furthermore, Coates was extremely slow to dismiss Hughes despite deteriorating results. Prior to Christmas, he suggested that the manager’s future would be determined by games against Burnley and West Ham.

Stoke lost both contests, yet it took a further month and an embarrassing defeat in the FA Cup against fourth-tier Coventry City before the Welshman eventually received his P45.

Coates’ loyalty to his manager was admirable but the consensus is that he acted far too late.

Stoke’s attempts to appoint a new manager were equally as indecisive and chaotic, with the club hierarchy publicly stumbling from one rebuttal to another.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Gary Rowett and Martin O’Neill both turned the job down whilst Quique Sánchez Flores said yes initially, only to conduct a dramatic U-turn 24 hours later by deciding to remain with Espanyol.

The eventual solution was to appoint Paul Lambert, who had reportedly been turned down for the Hull City job earlier in the season.

It may seem harsh to criticise Lambert, but the Scotsman has simply proven that he is not a Premier League manager. True, he did walk into a crisis zone, but it is noticeable that he has failed to stimulate an upturn in results.

Defeat against Arsenal at the weekend would mean that Lambert will have picked up fewer points than his predecessor against the same teams this season whilst failure to beat Tottenham could leave the Scotsman with just one win from his ten games in charge.

Underpinning Stoke’s problems on the pitch has been, what can only be described as, a shambolic transfer policy off it.

This is exemplified by Saido Berahino, who was signed for £12 million and has failed to score in over a year, Kevin Wimmer, signed for £18 million and now training with the reserves, and club record-signing Giannelli Imbula, who is in exile in France on loan with Toulouse.

That is almost £50 million worth of talent that has been poorly invested in the previous two years.

The future is bleak for the Potters and although the fat lady has not sang yet, she is currently waiting behind the curtain preparing to perform.

There is a slight glimmer of hope, but that could be quickly extinguished if Stoke fall to defeats against Arsenal and Tottenham in their next two games and results go against them.

There will be plenty of time for reflection, but Stoke supporters know that this is a relegation entirely of the club’s own making.

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Stoke City

It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert

The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.

Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.

The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.

The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.

The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.

Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.

The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.

Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.

At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The Manager

Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.

There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.

Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.

Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.

Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.

The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.

However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.

The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

The Squad

On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.

Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.

However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.

In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.

This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.

However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.

It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.

Remaining Fixtures

Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).

Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.

Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.

Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Will They Survive?

Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.

The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.

There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.

It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.

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