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.