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