Is Gary Rowett correct in his honest appraisal of Stoke's pre-season?
Stoke City manager Gary Rowett admitted that he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance of his players following a two-goal defeat in the club’s final pre-season friendly against FC St. Pauli on Saturday afternoon.
The 44-year-old also told the Stoke Sentinel that the result would give the team a “little bit of a kick up the backside” and that “we’ve got lots to do”.
The contest against St. Pauli was characteristic of how The Potters have performed over the summer and will undoubtedly leave Rowett with concerns on the eve of the new season.
Stoke were one-paced, struggled to create clear cut chances and conceded two goals against a team that are likely to finish mid-table in the German second division.
In fact, it is almost as if the players have picked up where they left off at the end of the previous campaign and many of the issues that underpinned the club’s relegation from the Premier League are still prevalent now.
The Potters have won just one friendly during pre-season, a three-goal rout of Walsall in early July, and have failed to secure victory in any of the subsequent five fixtures, scoring only one goal.
Performances have not been great by any stretch of the imagination and a lack of prolificacy at both ends of the pitch will rightly be course for concern.
Of course, this is only pre-season and Rowett himself has emphasised that the summer is all about preparation.
However, his negative appraisal of the players following the St. Pauli game suggests that he is far from satisfied.
In many ways the summer has been a reality check for Stoke.
There was a renewed sense of optimism following relegation in May as the club moved quickly to appoint Rowett, made positive moves in the transfer market and were able to retain the services of a number of high profile players.
Most media and betting outlets have the Potters down as favourites to win the Championship this year and supporters have excitedly been talking about a promotion challenge.
However, the second tier of English football is a bruising, unpredictable arena where nothing should be taken for granted.
The league is full of prestigious clubs and there is no hierarchy in place as teams battle through a campaign of playing twice a week – anyone is capable of generating a promotion push.
Stoke should be well aware that they can take nothing for granted at this level. The last time the club dropped out of the top-flight it took them over two decades of scrapping in the football wilderness until they returned.
Rowett is right to be frustrated at his team’s pre-season performances.
Yes, results may not particularly matter but performances certainly do. The 44-year-old will have been looking for positive indicators from individuals and the collective group over the summer as he prepares for the club’s opening game against Leeds United – he will not have seen many.
The overriding concern will be that Stoke will carry their poor pre-season form into the start of the campaign.
Under Mark Hughes’ reign at the club, the Potters were renowned for making a poor start to the new season after a summer of disappointing pre-season performances.
Stoke can ill afford to start the campaign slowly and the team must hit the ground running when the Championship kicks off in less than a week if they harbour genuine ambitions to challenge for promotion.
Rowett is right – there certainly is still plenty of work to do and he will be hoping that his players will produce a much improved standard of performance when the competitive fixtures kick in.