Six games will tell us if Stoke City can challenge for promotion


You only have to look at the Championship table at this stage of the past couple of seasons to know that Stoke City are well in the mix this time around.

In the past two years, the table has been settling down by the half-way point as sides have bustled their way into position. There have been outliers who have broken in – Aston Villa in 2018/19, Cardiff last term – and anyone with 32 or 33 points or more up to this point can count themselves still in contention if they can get into a groove.

Stoke were ninth with 34 points after 23 games in 2018/19. Unfortunately they only got 20 in the second half of the season.

Of the teams who ended up in the top six: Leeds were top with 48, Norwich second with 47, West Brom third with 42. Derby had 39, Sheffield United 38 and Aston Villa, who were 11th, had 33.

After 46 games, Norwich had got to 94 – nice symmetry over their season, Sheff Utd had stormed to 89, Leeds to 83, West Brom to 80, Villa 76 and Derby 74. What a run Villa had to burst through.

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Last season, Stoke were second-bottom with 18 points – and we were counting our blessings that Michael O’Neill had been in long enough to get it that high. No mean feat that they got 38 from the second set of 23.

West Brom were top with 50, Leeds second with 47, Fulham had 38, Brentford and Swansea were sixth and seventh with 37, Cardiff were 12th with 33. By the end, Leeds were champions with 93, Albion got 83, Brentford and Fulham 81, Cardiff 73 and Swansea 70.

So about 35 points over the course of half a season will have you sniffing around, about 40 and you’re in there.

You can even go down to Preston this year in 12th with 32 points and they’re still in with a shout.

The other statistic that screams out from the league table is the goals scored column. Stoke have 26 goals in 23 games.

Compared that with two years ago when Norwich had 41, Sheff Utd 36 and Villa 45, ending up with 93, 78 and 82 respectively. Last year, Leeds had got 36, West Brom 46, Fulham 35, rising to 77, 77 and 64.

If Stoke are really going to get in that top notch, that’s an area where they are falling short. It’s something they do have to look at, especially with Steven Fletcher and Tyrese Campbell injured.

When you’re forward line is rarely changed, you build momentum and togetherness and everything seems second nature. You read each other’s movement, midfielders and full-backs join in. Injuries knock that fluency.

At the other end of the pitch, you can see the importance of being hard to beat.

The table is in blocks: Norwich, Swansea, Bournemouth and Brentford have only lost three or four; Reading, Watford, Middlesbrough and Stoke have lost six or seven; Barnsley, Bristol City, Blackburn and Preston have lost nine to 11.

We’re not too far off and it’s set up for fierce competition over the next four months or so.

Stoke have done well to stay in touch despite a host of injuries. They can’t afford to let up – and the next six games could shape the season.

The bet365 Stadium will host pre-season dinner

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It’s a tough month: away to Blackburn who are scoring for fun, away to Rotherham, home to sixth-placed Watford. It’s Huddersfield, Reading and Norwich after that. Four of those six are away.

It’s a crucial period. If you come out of it still nudging around the play-offs then you’re in business. We will find out a lot about the team and the strength of the squad. I’m looking forward to it.





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