37 days that will shape Stoke City for at least the next two years



Stoke City head into a six-pointer at Luton Town sitting just one point outside the Championship relegation zone.

The big question will be where and how comfortably they sit six six-pointers later by 5pm on April 4.

The fixture list has thrown up a humdinging run into spring for Michael O’Neill ; away games at Luton, Reading and Wigan Athletic, home clashes with Hull City, Middlesbrough and Barnsley.

Those clubs are all currently separated by just nine points at the wrong end of the division; there are only five between Reading in 16th and Wigan in 22nd and the final relegation place.

There are 11 games remaining and those first half dozen will be decisive. Not only would any points be so valuable to Stoke – they are currently on 38 with 50 in mind for survival – but any they concede to their rivals will be double punishment.

The remaining five include home matches against Birmingham and Brentford, trips to Leeds, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest. Tougher on paper at least.

The bookies are confident that O’Neill and his players will hold their nerve. Remarkably, they are eighth favourites to go down after last night’s goalless draw at Birmingham, with the fact that three clubs have financial investigations hanging over their heads further adding to the madness.

But it will be what they are saying in 37 days’ time, after those half-dozen juicy, nail-biting, hide-behind-the-settee fixtures, that will paint a more vivid picture.

There is no getting away from how big the next five-and-a-bit weeks are for the whole club. It took four seasons to get out of the third tier last time they fell in, with attendances falling for a home match to as low as 6,569.

It doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences this time, particularly while they still have unwanted high-earning players on their books for a good while to come.

At best it would take one season and encompass a whole rebuild to prepare to get back fighting in the Championship; at worst it could be very, very messy.

So get out your prayer mats, pull on your lucky underpants, kiss your neighbour’s bald head and hope that by 5pm on April 4 everyone in red and white is smiling – and by 2.15pm on May 2 we can all relax and look forward to the summer. It seems a long way off.

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Stoke City remaining fixtures

29 February (3pm) Luton Town v Stoke City

7 March (3pm) Stoke City v Hull City

14 March (3pm) Reading v Stoke City

18 March (8pm) Stoke City v Middlesbrough

21 March (3pm) Wigan Athletic v Stoke City

4 April (3pm) Stoke City v Barnsley

10 April (3pm) Leeds United v Stoke City

13 April (3pm) Stoke City v Birmingham City

18 April (3pm) Bristol City v Stoke City

25 April (3pm) Stoke City v Brentford

2 May (12.30pm) Nottingham Forest v Stoke City





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