Stoke City got it wrong three managers in a row and we were absolutely doomed – but this time they’ve got it bang on



As Stoke City fans, we all know of course that voiding the current 2019/20 season now would work out pretty well for our club. We made a nightmare start to the campaign and back in early November we looked near certainties for the drop.

Under Michael O’Neill’s outstanding leadership though, and thanks also to a newly discovered spirit from the players, we have managed to haul ourselves away from the dreaded relegation places and are currently sitting in a positively lofty 17th position in the Championship table.

There’s no formula now, for ending the season early, which could now see us playing anywhere but our current division whenever a new season starts, be it points-per-game or current placings – if ‘they’ did decide to try to push through with awarding promotion and relegation spots from this campaign.

There’s so many reasons, legal and moral, why they won’t do that but we can sleep well knowing we’re okay anyway.

On the subject of our almost  certain safety and survival this season (I say ‘almost’ because we still don’t know for sure that this season won’t yet be played out somehow) I can’t help but look back and acknowledge the incredible job that O’Neill has done in his time at the bet365 Stadium.

With just about a third of the season gone when the Northern Irishman arrived we were looking absolutely doomed, with just eight points to our name. We were a pitiful mess of a team and if we’re being totally honest there were more than a few fans who weren’t overly impressed by O’Neill’s credentials and appointment.

Having come up well short with their previous three managerial appointments the board actually got it bang on with Michael O’Neill.

The transformation during his 22 league games in charge has been as wonderful as it was unexpected. Sure, there have still been some bumps in the road but a man whose previous league managerial experience comprised entirely of stints at Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers has shown, without any doubt, that he is cut out of the right stuff to deal with the pressures of the English Championship.

The team he’s putout on the field has been relatively attractive to watch, have scored more goals than we dared to hope for when he took over (two fives, a four and three threes, after a run of some 90 games without scoring more than two in a match!) and if you don’t think 34 points from 22 games is worthy of a lot of praise then you don’t truly realise how bad we were when he was appointed!

The 4-2 win at Barnsley was the adrenalin shot we needed before our season totally flat-lined and the 5-2 thrashing of Huddersfield was as comprehensive a demolition job as I’ve ever seen Stoke perform on an away ground in all my years of watching the team. The 3-2 win against Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day is just about the most incredible, dramatic victory I can ever recall seeing, with two goals deep into injury time.

And let’s not forget that we even got back to winning ways at West Brom, previously our favourite away ground in the world but more recently a place to fear visiting, with another heroic performance back in January and a winning goal from Tyrese Campbell – a player who wasn’t even always training with the first team before our new manager arrived but who is now tied to a new four year contract at the club! 

What Michael O’Neill has achieved has not been done by spending large amounts of money but with good old fashioned management. He is mostly using the same players he inherited and he’s getting a damn fine tune out of them too. O’Neill has also been a model of calm unflappability when things have gone against us.

He’s made changes when he’s had to but for the most part he’s given players a fair chance to bounce back from disappointments and avoided the temptation to make the kind of regular wholesale changes which shredded us as a team under the previous manager. Rather than randomly hanging the players out to dry he’s put an arm around their shoulder and got them through things. And when he has dropped players it’s been done without any fanfare.

With all of the qualities we’ve seen from our manager I’m not too worried if they do decide, somehow, to play out the remainder of the season because I’ve seen what a great organiser and motivator he is.

In the event that this season is eventually voided and we have to start all over again sometime later in the year then I can’t wait to see what the team will look like after it makes a fresh start to a campaign under Michael O’Neill, instead of him picking up a club in crisis, a squad bereft of any belief or confidence and a league table which saw The Potters needing snookers to try and catch the clubs above it.

Our form under O’Neill has been play-off material without any doubt and if anybody wants to make light of that achievement I would, again, ask them to consider the position we were in when he took over. He has managed equal results and better performances than Gary Rowett and achieved a monumentally better record than Nathan Jones, despite having had none of the preparation time of his two predecessors and none of the money they both had at their disposal.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding football right now we simply don’t know what the short term and long term future holds for us. For now, football takes a back seat to people and a pandemic. However, I am genuinely optimistic about Stoke’s prospects once the action does resume. I was always nervous about our chances under Rowett, given the money he spent and some of the players he signed, and there was always a nagging doubt about Jones and his scattergun emotions.

In Michael O’Neill though we finally seem to have the manager we need to start moving forward. And I fully expect us to do this when we next see Stoke City take to the field.





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