Okay, things are starting to happen. Green lights are being given, starting dates are being talked about and it seems increasingly likely that the EFL will at least attempt to try and get the 2019/20 Championship completed.
As things stand right now games are pencilled in to restart on June 20, though this is provisional only and dependent wholly upon all safety checks being made and the current downwards curve of the Coronavirus in the country being maintained.
It does though give us all something to aim towards and, if you can stomach games being played in empty stadiums and you yourself not being allowed to be there, then it gives us all something to look forward to. It’s clear that not every club is behind the plans – QPR are said to be appalled at not being consulted on the matter and Hull City, well, Hull just want the current season scrapped completely – but everyone is preparing for that return, with teams now undergoing a mini pre-season to prepare themselves for the task of playing their last nine games.
If the games are played then it’s certainly going to be fascinating to observe what happens. Players have been effectively mothballed since the beginning of March and they now have three weeks or so to get ready for playing games in the height of an English summer.
To be fair, an English summer means that the temperature at kick-off time could range from anywhere between minus-two and 30C but it’s still going to be a new experience for the majority of the players.
I have some mixed feelings on the matter. I obviously want to be at every single Stoke City game but I can’t deny that I have missed watching the games, or any football games for that matter, and my home, up high on the dominating heights of Penkhull, means that I’m treated to a glimpse of the bet365 Stadium every time I venture out of my house for a walk.
Each time I see it I am reminded of how much I yearn to see the team again. Not even my village’s epic, fairytale triumph in the national Flag Institute FA Cup can make up for missing out on The Potters.
Should the season recommence then I am confident that we can get the job done and that the team can see themselves safely through those final nine games.
If we do that then I would consider it a considerable achievement when you consider the terrible hole from which we had to drag ourselves after our simply disastrous start to the season.
And on that subject I find myself returning to the topic of Nathan Jones. The nightmares have started to ease and there’s part of me now that even questions whether he did ever really manage us or it’s just my mind playing tricks with me. Well, the bible and chest-thumping Welshman has, not all that surprisingly, returned to Bedfordshire to retake the reigns at Kenilworth Road.
Jones now has nine games to overhaul the six-point gap (effectively seven actually, due to their shocking goal difference) which currently separates Luton Town from safety. He’ll either be the returning hero as he saves The Hatters from the drop or he’ll complete the personal mission he started at Stoke, by returning himself back down to League One.
I was genuinely surprised by the broadly positive and sympathetic reaction offered by my fellow Stokies as they spoke about Nathan Jones’ time in the hot seat at the bet365 Stadium and generally wished him well for the future. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that it was just the wrong time in his career for him to have taken over at Stoke.
Well, although I was very supportive of the decision to appoint him when we did, with the same benefit of hindsight which is available to every single Stoke fan, I’d say that the wrong time for him to have taken on the Stoke job was between the date he got the job and the end of time!
I don’t really want to sift through the ashes of an unfortunate episode in our recent history, or to take one last kick at the corpse of his Stoke City career, but we have to remember that we are talking about historic levels of ‘badness’ that we endured with him as manager.
His side, won just five of the 35 league games played after he took over and before Michael O’Neill was appointed. When he left this season we had won just two of 15 matches and our home record was played eight, won one, drawn one and lost SIX.
Our points per game record under Nathan Jones was one of the worst of ANY Stoke City managers in our entire history and managed to limbo under even what Paul Lambert managed in his brief spell in charge at the end of our Premier League adventure.
I’m not one for sticking it to somebody for the sake of it but I look at the negative and even derogatory way in which people like Mick Mills, Alan Ball, Joe Jordan and Johan Boskamp are spoken about and then compare it with the relatively sympathetic reaction Nathan Jones gets and I’m a little surprised to say the least.
Football fans are a strange bunch aren’t they and I’m reminded of a fan who, not that long ago, stated that Steve Foley was the worst players he had ever seen in a Stoke City shirt. That’s right, Steve Foley, one of the lynchpins of Lou Macari’s title-winning 1992/93 side! How do you even begin to your head around an opinion like that?
People so wanted Jones to succeed and we could all see that he was 100 per cent committed to the cause, that we gave him more leeway and a far softer time than his record deserved. Now though, we should all be hoping that he manages one of at least three clubs who we need to finish below us if this season is played out to completion.
All we need to do in these final nine games is finish the resurrection job started under Michael O’Neill and have ourselves ready, when this Coronavirus crisis is over and football eventually returns to ‘normal’, to start to truly repair the damage done under a forgettable three years, including the Nathan Jones spell, which took Stoke from the relative mid-table safety of the Premier League, down to the very bottom of the Championship table.