Stoke City started the season celebrating their tenth successive year as a top-flight club but there was little to celebrate yesterday as relegation to the Championship was confirmed following a defeat against Crystal Palace.
There were tears on the pitch and in the stands following the final whistle, yet relegation will have come as little surprise.
In truth, the Potters have been limping along for some time now and the fact that they started the day still with an outside chance of securing survival after just one win in their previous 13 games says more about the paucity of quality in the bottom half of the table than their own endeavours.
It was all incredibly predictable.
Stoke started brightly and went into the half-time interval with a narrow need courtesy of Xherdan Shaqiri’s spectacular free-kick.
The Swiss superstar has been one of the few bright sparks in a disastrous campaign, scoring 8 goals from midfield, and will be first through the door when the transfer window reopens.
However, Stoke have developed an unwanted habit of falling apart in the second half of matches in recent months.
After the break, the Potters sat back and found themselves pinned into their own half, invited Crystal Palace to launch wave after wave of attacks. The team gradually became more disorganised and disorientated with James McArthur netting the equalising goal in the 68th minute.
There was only ever going to be one winner from that point.
Over their last seven games, Stoke have conceded five goals in the final 10 minutes, so it was no surprise when Patrick van Aanholt hammered home the final nail in their coffin in the dying stages of the game.
Wilfied Zaha and Christian Benteke had both already wasted golden opportunities prior to the Dutchman’s winner whilst, in contrast, the Potters, who had to win this contest, had no attempts on goal worthy of note in the entire second period.
There were boos at the final whistle, but a large section of the home supporters remained in the stands to applaud the efforts of their players.
Indeed, it has not been a lack of effort that has resulted in relegation but rather a distinct lack of quality, complacency in the boardroom and an abject managerial appointment.
The focus will now shift towards Paul Lambert.
The 48-year-old succeeded Mark Hughes in January but has failed to stimulate any positive change in the club’s fortunes – if anything he has compounded matters.
Lambert has overseen just one win in his 14 matches in charge and has failed to secure victory in any of the club’s previous 13 games.
He has faced only four of the so-called ‘big six’ during that time and has been incapable of finding a way to secure victory against the teams around them in the table.
Taking into account his final months in charge at Aston Villa, Lambert has won just three of his last 35 games as a Premier League manager.
There has been little to suggest that he possesses the managerial prowess to be successful in the top-flight and, in hindsight, his appointment was a catastrophic mistake.
Of course, Lambert did inherit a limited squad, but it was far from being an impossible task to save Stoke’s Premier League status.
When he walked through the door at the Bet365 Stadium the club were one point from safety and he was handed three new players during the January transfer window.
He has ultimately been in charge of 40% of Stoke’s games this season and has one of the worst win percentages of any manager in the club’s history.
To provide context, Darren Moore has earned more points since being named as the interim manager at West Bromwich Albion than Lambert has at Stoke despite being in charge for nine fewer fixtures.
Lambert may not entirely be at fault for the disastrous campaign, blame also lies at the feet of Mark Hughes, the players and the board, but he must ultimately accept responsibility for his own inadequate contribution to this mess.
The big question for Stoke supporters is simply, what now?
The club hierarchy have some big decisions to make in the summer.
Do they retain Lambert or look to bring in a new manager? How much money will be made available to rebuild the squad? How much effect will relegation have on the club’s finances?
The fear for supporters is that the core of the team will be sold almost immediately.
Shaqiri, Jack Butland, Joe Allen, Badou N’Diaye and Bruno Martins Indi will all attract offers in the summer whilst Kurt Zouma will return to Chelsea when his loan concludes next week.
That will leave a mixture of aging professionals (Glen Johnson, Charlie Adam and Peter Crouch), unproven, inexperienced youth team proteges (Tyrese Campbell, Tom Edwards and Julien Ngoy) and unwanted signings (Saido Berahino and Kevin Wimmer).
The future is certainly not bright and there will need to be a completed overhaul of the squad in the summer.
There is no guarantee that Stoke will immediately bounce straight back up to the Premier League and they should take note of Sunderland’s plight as an example of the dangers of poor decision making when dropping into The Championship.
It took Stoke 23 years to earn their place in the Premier League and supporters will be hoping that they do not have to wait that long for a return.
Kevin Wimmer scores on Hannover debut as he puts Stoke nightmare behind him
The Austrian defender had an awful time at Stoke City last season.
When Stoke City signed Kevin Wimmer last summer it looked like something of a coup from the Potters. The Austrian had impressed at Tottenham during his time at White Hart Lane. Unfortunately, game time became hard to come by due to the excellence of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at the back for Spurs.
Wimmer was therefore sold to Stoke last summer for a fee in the region of £18 million. Mark Hughes was ecstatic with the signing but his form did not justify his exaggerated price-tag.
Wimmer struggled under Hughes and things got even worse when the Welshman left. Replaced by Paul Lambert, the new manager swiftly moved wimmer into the reserves. Told to lose weight he played no part in Stoke’s failed attempt to survive relegation from the Premier League.
This summer, with Stoke relegated, Wimmer was moved on. He joined Hannover in a season-long loan deal back in May.
At the weekend he began his first steps in forgetting his Stoke City nightmare. The Austrian played his first game for his new club in the DFB Pokal against Karlsruher. Not only did he play, but he also managed to score. It was his first goal since scoring v Liverpool in the League Cup back in 2016 whilst at Spurs.
He scored the opening goal of a convincing 6-0 win, powering home a close-range header.
Wimmer will long be remembered as one of Stoke’s biggest ever flops. But it seems he is certainly enjoying himself back in Germany.
One winner, one loser as Cuco Martina completes Stoke loan move
The 28-year-old completed a loan switch to the Championship.
The Curacao international had seen his opportunities at Goodison Park limited and will be eager to help the Potters achieve promotion.
Here is one winner and one loser from the loan deal, as Martina will be pleased by the prospect of consistent football but Stoke’s underperforming defenders may be at risk of losing their place.
Winner: Cuco Martina
During his debut year at Goodison Park, Martina always played with impressive desire but never looked like a player of top quality.
The defender, who is more comfortable as a right back, performed with admirable effort when asked to play left back last season, but was largely off the pace.
After Everton purchased ex-Barcelona defender Lucas Digne this summer, Martina must have realised he was not in Marco Silva’s future plans.
A move away from Merseyside will do the Curacao international a world of good, granting him consistent first team football and a chance to shine at an ambitious club looking to return to the top flight.
Loser: Stoke City’s underperforming defenders
The Potters largely kept last season’s Premier League squad intact, including their full-backs Erik Pieters and Moritz Bauer.
However, these same players that were relegated with Stoke are failing to light the Championship on fire. The club is still searching for its first win of the season and is mired in 22nd in the league after the first two matches.
With the addition of Martina, Pieters and Bauer will undoubtedly be looking over their shoulders nervously and wondering if their first team berth is at risk.
The two underperforming full-backs could be axed from Gary Rowett’s lineup in favour of the Everton loanee, as Martina will be eager to prove his worth at his new club.
One winner and loser as Stoke City close in on signing Sam Clucas
Stoke look set to sign the Swansea midfielder on deadline day
Stoke City are closing in on a deal to sign Swansea midfielder Sam Clucas in a fee thought to be around £6 million, a shrewd bit of business from The Potters, who will be looking to improve on their Championship opening day defeat.
Manager Gary Rowett will be hoping the midfielder can hit the ground running and bring with him some much-needed versatility that his current midfield options lack.
Stoke haven’t been able to find a permanent central midfielder capable of running the show since Steven N’Zonzi’s departure in 2015. However, Clucas may just be the man to fill the void.
Winner – Stoke’s midfield
Clucas will bring with him a versatility to play anywhere in the midfield, a trait which their current options all lack and a quality vital to succeeding in the Championship.
During his time at Hull City, Clucas played left wing, left back, defensive midfield and a number 10 role; a testament to the 28-year-old’s ability and something Stoke can use to their advantage this season.
Clucas is comfortable on the ball and has a passing range which is second to none. If the Potters are going to gain promotion back to the Premier League they’ll need a midfielder with these kinds of attributes in their side.
Loser – Burnley
It seemed as though Burnley would be the destination for Clucas this season. However, in a sudden change of events Sean Dyche’s side lost out on their target.
This will be a blow for Dyche’s side, who have struggled terribly during this transfer window, despite securing European football for the first time in the clubs history last season.
It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll make a move for anyone else today before the deadline strikes, but a few deadline day signings wouldn’t go amiss for Dyche’s men.
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