Eight days of peak Stoke City as boss builds squad that can be challengers


It’s a mark of Michael O’Neill’s first anniversary as Stoke City manager that the Potters have had what can only be described as a ‘peak Stoke’ week.

Scraping a 1-0 win against an unfancied side in Rotherham had nerves jangling, while the events of Wednesday evening in Watford will live on in rancour for most of us for decades… not so MON.

He and his squad somehow set the ludicrous shenanigans and awful decisions which went against them for both Watford’s first and then late winning goals to produce a display of maturity and defensive stability at Reading.

Most notable, though, was City’s ability to weather the leaders’ early storm and take three of the four chances which presented themselves to them clinically, only missing out when Tyrese Campbell’s right-footed curler came back off the inside of the far post, instead of nestling in the net as a similar shot did against Brentford a few weeks ago.

Once the first goal went in at the Madejski Stadium, you could see the home players start to deflate. It was Tyrese who bagged it, pouncing swiftly on a mistake in the Royals’ defence to slot home.

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Campbell has had quite a week. After stinking the place out in the second half last Saturday, he came back to claim yet another assist for Nick Powell’s goal at Watford and then produce a man of the match performance at Reading, scoring one, nearly bagging another, then ‘dummying’ Tommy Smith’s header to allow it to reach Steven Fletcher to net the crucial second.

Jacob Brown’s late third sealed the deal and put the seal on an away three points that City should have had a decent chance of grabbing at Watford.

Enter Andrew Davies, referee and ignorer of the blindingly obvious.

The officiating at Watford on Wednesday at the crucial times was nothing more than horrific. Stoke were by far the better team in the first half, but went in at the break level thanks to one of the truly woeful and embarrassing refereeing decisions in our history.

Not since Freddie Steele (oh, and Jon Walters against Bolton in 2012, but we’ll gloss over that one…) has a goalkeeper been barged into the net whilst holding the ball for a goal to be given.

Inept doesn’t even cover it and it’s to MON and the players’ credit that they fought back so strongly from it in that game, only to be royally stuffed again by a missed handball decision in the run up to Watford’s winning goal.

And then they came back from that dual hit to win so comfortably at Reading.

The only redeeming feature of Andrew Davies’s appalling decision was that it wasn’t in a crucial game like an FA Cup semi-final in the 1970s or a play-off semi-final in the late 90s, for example.

Special mention has to be given to Angus Gunn this week, as he produced some superb stops in both away games. He’s settling in nicely and we will have a major scrap to see which of the two keepers is ‘first choice’. It’s likely to be the man in possession until they make a mistake, but in both Gunn and Davies, we have excellent goalkeepers now, which form the solid base of a decent defence.

It is the defence which needs to be more like at Reading than at Watford. They still do have those kinds of performances and individual mistakes, like Danny Batth’s for Watford’s penalty, in them.

But overall you can’t argue with two clean sheets and of the three goals that were conceded at Watford two actually being illegal.

A peak Stoke week, indeed.

A year ago we’d have bitten our own hands off for a manager who could just save us from relegation.

Now we don’t just have that, we have a manager who is building, developing and making Stoke City a major force again. We could only dream of such flights of fancy before that game at Barnsley this time last year.

Saturday’s classic away performance was another piece of the building evidence which shows that O’Neill is slowly but surely creating a team and a squad which has a chance of at least challenging this season.

Given officials that will let them…

Happy MON day everyone!





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