A rare pause in the Championship slog gives Stoke City fans a chance to reflect on the season so far and what to expect next.
On our self-isolating international break fans’ panel this week are JON OWEN, from Seabridge; JAMES KNOWLES, from Fenton; RICHARD JAMES, from Blythe Bridge; TOM MCKEON, from Endon; and ADAM BOULTON, from Stafford.
How are you following games at the moment?
Jon Owen: A mixture of constant Twitter updates and streaming the games online. I’d say following through Twitter was a far more stressful experience. The use of “FFS Stoke” in a tweet during the game is always a bad sign, but the burst of happiness when we score is great to see.
Neither come close to being at the game itself though. I’m really missing it.
James Knowles: With difficulty! Most of my updates have been via highlights to be honest, with the Reading win the first full match I’ve been able to watch due to various circumstances. I’ve found it hard to have full interest in football with no fans in the grounds, but it’s been a positive start from the team… Wouldn’t it be classic Stoke to have a momentous season without supporters being able to attend?!
Richard James: It’s not really the same but I’m at least managing to see all the Stoke games via iFollow or when we are on Sky Sports. After almost having my fill of football on TV at one point I’m back and fully immersed watching about six games last weekend from one league or another! Luckily my wife was on nights at UHNM so she was asleep for most of them!
Tom Mckeon: I’ve been buying the stream on the Stoke website or watching on Sky. I do think a tenner is too expensive to watch a stream but watching football live is expensive anyway so I didn’t expect anything less. Stoke are one of the better clubs at it, what with the free coach travel and all, but it’s just where we’re at in terms of how much the game values its fans…
Adam Boulton: I’m watching the games via the official stream and the quality is good but I do think Stoke are missing a trick with it like other teams by not having an official channel and getting the presenter speak to guests for the build-up. I also think they need a rethink of the price and should make it £5.
Who has been your pick of the summer signings?
Jon Owen: Steven Fletcher has been brilliant so far, even better than I thought he would. I really like how he and Tyrese Campbell are linking up and you do feel any success we do have this season is reliant on us keeping both fit. They give us a chance in most games we play at this level.
James Knowles: Steven Fletcher has been a shrewd signing. Not only is his experience handy off the pitch, he’s now becoming an integral member of the forward line with him and Tyrese Campbell being a really impressive duo.
Richard James: Steven Fletcher was always going to be a good signing. To bring in a streetwise striker who knows how to link the play and score goals on a free was superb business. I was really pleased when we got him but he’s probably surprised me how technically gifted he is to complement his physical attributes.
Tom Mckeon: It’s comfortably Fletcher. I wrote on Twitter as soon as we made the signing that it was “depressing”. He’s made me look like an absolute muppet but I couldn’t be more delighted that he has. He’s everything you want from a target man at this level, he’s basically the player I think Stoke thought Sam Vokes would be for us. It’s vital we keep him fit because I don’t think his understudies are anywhere near him in terms of his quality.
I also can’t not mention Mikel because he seems to get better every week and is a class above at this level. Jacob Brown also looks to be a fantastic addition for £2m.
Adam Boulton: My pick is Mikel. He’s added a calming influence in the centre of midfield and I can’t wait to see how he plays when everybody is fit.
Which other player has caught your eye this season?
Jon Owen: Harry Souttar has really shone in defence, and is right up there with contenders for player of the season so far. That spell on loan at Fleetwood has done him the world of good, and while at some point we may have to take the pressure off him, he’s been excellent so far.
A defender who loves defending by the looks of things!
James Knowles: I’m delighted for Harry Souttar and his progress. His monthly award has been well deserved and he’s now one of the first names on the team sheet which is remarkable progress for a player who appeared to be on his way out over the summer.
He’s shown patience to get his chance and has grabbed it with both hands.
Richard James: Think this was a close run thing between Fletch and Harry Souttar but I’ll plump for our “Aussie” defender as his development has really shocked me. I saw him play in a very odd game away at Forest in the cup and if I’m honest I probably dismissed him as not going to make it at this level. He’s totally proves me wrong and following his return from a productive loan at Fleetwood he’s been our best defender by far and the future looks great for him.
Tom Mckeon: Souttar and Campbell have been pretty exceptional. I knew Campbell had the quality but this season he’s been pretty much unplayable, his finishing is special and he’s looking like an absolute killer right now at this level.
He’s strong, quick, runs at defenders, and he’s shown a real intelligence and maturity to his play this year which I think has previously been lacking and that’s shown with his assists. It’s testament to his talent and hard work but also to O’Neill’s coaching how he’s started this season.
Souttar, meanwhile is an absolute rock, I’d never really seen him play at Fleetwood and League One to the Championship is a big jump but he’s been superb and fully deserved the player of the month award.
Adam Boulton : Another player to catch my eye this season is Fletcher. I knew he was a forward who put himself about but I didn’t realise his overall game was so good. I really do think he’s helped Tyrese and made him a better player.
Who’s got something to prove?
Jon Owen: I think everyone who has played for us this season has generally done really well. I’d perhaps like to see a bit more from the fringe strikers, Sam Vokes and Lee Gregory. And Sam Clucas, pre-injury, hadn’t hit the high standards he set himself last season yet. It feels harsh criticising though, as every player has contributed well thus far.
James Knowles: It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Allen forces his way back into the team. A player of undoubted quality, his injury has allowed others to lay a midfield marker and they’ve done little wrong to warrant losing their spot. If he recovers to full potential, it’ll be a wonderful selection headache for Mr O’Neill.
Richard James: For me there’s still plenty with stuff to prove and in varying ways. Morgan Fox hasn’t quite convinced me yet but I feel he looks better in a flat back four and as a left back rather than in a three or as a wing back so the jury is still out.
Tashan Oakley Booth is another who while not being terrible has only looked a player in fleeting glimpses. He’s clearly a talented lad but needs to learn the role more and improve off the ball.
With the size of our squad there are plenty more to choose from with Ince, Gregory, Cousins, Chester, Tymon and to a degree Vokes all with work to do in order to be considered a first teamer.
Tom Mckeon: A difficult one this. I still think the whole team has something to prove because whilst 18pts from 11 is a good return, we still haven’t looked very convincing in terms of shape and pattern of play, we’ve often looked quite disjointed I feel.
In terms of one player, it may sound mad but I think Nick Powell has most to prove. Not because he isn’t a good player for Stoke, he’s done very well for us. It’s more that the guy is a ridiculously talented footballer and even though he’s doing well, for me he should be dominating at this level.
Hopefully we’ll get to the stage when we won’t have to keep asking him to almost play like a Sidibe role at the moment where he spends a lot of his time winning headers and battling. He’s underachieved in his career and should be in the Premier League – and he will be desperate to prove that he’s a Prem level player. It’s a massive season for him.
Adam Boulton: I think Ince needs to buckle down and fight for a place in the starting line-up because we all know he can be good in this league when he’s on form. I don’t think he’s done that at all when he’s been at Stoke.
I do partly blame Nathan Jones for completely destroying his confidence though.
Any other business
Jon Owen: One year on from Michael O’Neill’s appointment and what a year it has been. He inherited a mess, a squad devoid of confidence, desire and goals. When he joined, we looked doomed.
While there have been bumps in the road, he’s done a truly magnificent job here since becoming our manager.
While our bloated squad and some of our previous problems haven’t completely gone away, and we perhaps need to temper expectations, he’s given us our hope back when it seemed to have disappeared. So thank you MoN, and I hope the next 12 months see us continue our recovery.
James Knowles: I’d just like to pay tribute to my dad who this week celebrated 70 years since his first Stoke match. That game in 1950 saw Stoke beat Blackpool 1-0. – he was taken to see the great Stanley Matthews turn out for the opposition… but Stan didn’t turn up! But that didn’t matter for dad who became hooked instantly, as did I a number of years later.
Football is in the blood and if it wasn’t for my dad who knows where my passions could lie. Congratulations on a brilliant achievement, Thomas Knowles!
Richard James: It would be remiss not to mention the unbelievable job the manager has done in 12 months. We were heading into oblivion when he arrived and to turn us from a rudderless, car crash of a team to at least starting to look like a top half team (with an eye on the play-offs) and with hardly any money spent, is a true testament to Michael O’Neill’s ability.
We are very lucky to have such a steadying influence at the helm of Stoke City.
Tom Mckeon: These are difficult times for everyone right now, but I think I can speak for a lot of Stoke fans by saying that brilliant win at Reading, which leaves us right in the thick of the promotion places, didn’t half lift my spirits.
It’s very early days of course but this time last season we were doomed and it’s great to see our club back challenging at the right end of the table!
O’Neill has done a phenomenal job, showing true class throughout, and while this Stoke team are nowhere near the finished article, he’s transformed an awful team into a strong, decent side who are very difficult to beat in this division, in the space of just one year!
I can only see us improving further under him and it’s, dare I say it, exciting times to be a Stoke fan again.
Adam Boulton: I really think Stoke are onto a winner by using ex=players to help out the Academy. The latest one is Nigel Gleghorn and what a coup that is. During the Macari years he was my third favourite player behind Stein and Ware.
If we carry on using ex-players I would love us to find a place for my all-time Stoke hero Steino because I really do think he could help our strikers.