Stoke City’s rare away form, clean sheets and 20-goal target for Steven Fletcher


Steven Fletcher and Nick Powell earned Stoke City three points at Luton Town and an impressive away record. Here are the talking points from Kenilworth Road.

Stoke’s system continues to evolve

There has been plenty of debate about the system Michael O’Neill has hung his hat on this season, although he has tweaked and tinkered with things ahead of his three defenders.

And a look on social media at half-time gave some indication about the arguments for moving to a back four. Stoke had struggled to put their stamp on the match after all and there were plenty of attacking options on the bench.

But O’Neill clearly believes the intricacies afforded to him from that back three platform can evolve to make Stoke an attacking force, as well as point to the clean sheets that keep be racked up Adam Davies (that’s nine in 13 now since he replaced Jack Butland).

The 3-4-3 he used at Luton got Nick Powell in a more attacking role and once they got on the front foot at the start of the second half, Luton couldn’t handle them. Two goals, job done, keep another clean sheet.

The move from 3-5-2 to 3-4-3 shows that it’s fluid. Hearing O’Neill orders at close hand from a makeshift press box above a makeshift dug out at Kenilworth Road, it is clear that it’s fluid through 90 minutes too.

The manager still describes it as a work in progress and there is hope that Stoke will sand off the rough edges as they go along. There are enough games to hone it – 18 to squeeze in before the New Year.

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Stoke record against former managers

Tony Pulis seemed to have the hoodoo over Stoke whenever he came up against them since leaving and Gary Rowett has two draws and a win.

In fact, there had only been seven wins over former Stoke managers in the last 43 reunions over the past 20 years before they locked horns with Nathan Jones.

Jones has been gracious about Stoke since he was sacked a year ago but, sorry Nathan, this is a curse that long been ripe for breaking.

Away form and a two-year high

Stoke are eighth after five games. This is the highest they have been in the Championship since relegation from the Premier League in 2018.

They have won four away games in a row in league and cup. It is the most away games won in a row since Johan Boskamp was in charge back in December 2015. They have only done it six times in the club’s long history and only gone five once – in 1947 when they were a win away from being champions of England.

They have kept five away clean sheets in a row. This is a joint club record, level with a run up to late 2015 under Mark Hughes and in the winter of 1969/70 under Tony Waddington.

They are seven unbeaten away. They did this under Gary Rowett in late 2018 and have only done it eight other times. They have only gone eight unbeaten on the road three times.

There are two home games next before a trip to Swansea on Tuesday, October 27.

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Can Steven Fletcher score 20 goals?

A first Stoke goal for Steven Fletcher after a couple of games hitting the woodwork. He’s been building up his stamina since joining in the summer, having left Sheffield Wednesday at the end of June, but he’s showing he’s a bulldozer with a deft touch.

This was the kind of goal that should be his bread and butter and, if he can stay fit, he should lap up being the focal point for a Michael O’Neill team.

He scored 13 times in 30 games last season, a campaign truncated by injury and contract, and it will be interesting to see what figures he can reach this time around.

It wouldn’t half be a potent combination if Stoke had a defence and keeper that kept clocking up regular free kicks and a striker who could score 20 goals.





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