Stoke City chief warns of tough times ahead as EFL makes season vow



Season to finish

The EFL has confirmed it will aim to bring this season to a “successful conclusion” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stoke City ‘s Championship campaign is currently suspended until at least April 3 as a result of the ongoing public health crisis.

There remain major doubts over whether matches will be able to resume on that date.

However, the Football League have stated their intention to complete the season when possible.

An emergency EFL board meeting was held in Preston yesterday (Wednesday) to discuss the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak for the League and its clubs.

A £50million short-term relief package has been agreed to assist cash-strapped clubs during this public health crisis.

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‘Very difficult times’

Peter Coates expects “very difficult times” ahead as football, gambling firms and the rest of the world head into the unknown.

Coates and his family have built up bet365 in the 21st century to become one of the leading bookmakers in the world, employing more than 4,000 people in the Potteries and bankrolling  Stoke City  to spend a decade in the Premier League.

But the evaporation of sporting events will have a huge impact – and across the industry, betting firms are reviewing how trading patterns will change.

Coates said: “It will have a huge impact on the entire sector because there are very few markets. We’re in for very difficult times.

“Relying on sport as we do – that’s become virtually non-existent. There are a lot of unknown factors and we just don’t know how the trading patterns will change.”

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Standing down

Michael O’Neill is expected to stand down as Northern Ireland manager in June, report the Irish press.

O’Neill has balanced his roles in charge of Stoke City and the international team since November and a decision would have been made following this month’s Euro 2020 play-off qualifiers.

That initial play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina has now been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak and initially pencilled in for June, with Euro 2020 now put back 12 months.

The Irish News report: “Those play-off dates, if the games can go ahead, should allow O’Neill to oversee the semi-final away to Bosnia and Herzegovina – and a potential final play-off against either Slovakia or the Republic in Belfast.

“However, if the coronavirus crisis pushes the return of international football action back any later, into the autumn of this year, that would probably end O’Neill’s time in charge of NI.”

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O’Neill challenge

Michael O’Neill has complete conviction that he can improve Stoke City in the short-term – and is embracing the challenge of shaping the club in the long-term.

O’Neill inherited a club which was licking its wounds after three painful years when he replaced Nathan Jones in November, rock bottom of the Championship, low on confidence and in real danger of dropping into League One.

He has transformed the form to pull Stoke out of the relegation zone with nine games still hopefully to be played this season.

And he is enjoying the responsibility being trusted in him from the board.

“That’s a big thing about it – the level of control, and backing yourself to be able to change it,” he said in the At Home podcast with Colin Murray.

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