Stoke City player ratings so far: The stars and the struggles in season of two halves
As football takes an enforced break, there is time to reflect on what has been a season of two halves at Stoke City. Or two halves and then whatever this is.
There were just eight points picked up in the first 15 games to make the start to the season under Nathan Jones, at least in terms of results, as bad as pretty much anything known in the club’s history.
But Michael O’Neill’s arrival and calm approach has turned everything on its head.
In a remarkable flash, the bet365 Stadium – where Stoke had won just once in 13 before November – has been transformed into one of the hardest places for any visiting team in the Championship.
Stoke are now up to a season high of 17th, with hopefully nine games to be played to secure their place and build for the future.
With that in mind, StokeonTrentLive is rating each player so far in 2018/19.
BETWEEN THE STICKS
Jack Butland: No point in pretending it’s been anything other than a difficult season for the 27-year-old, who should have been preparing to be England’s number one at Euro 2020. A move to the Premier League didn’t happen and early mistakes against QPR and Preston saw him lose his place to Adam Federici under Jones.
Has clearly recovered form and confidence behind a settled back four under O’Neill and has been dominant in home wins, such as against Cardiff. Seven clean sheets in last 17 games. 6
Adam Davies: Had arrived after captaining Barnsley to promotion and expecting to be Butland’s replacement – but barely even got on the bench under Jones.
Has established himself as number two under O’Neill but will be haunted by the goal he conceded in only appearance so far, away at Brentford in FA Cup. Hasn’t had a chance to make amends yet. 5
Adam Federici: Made nine appearances under Jones in brief promotion to first choice but hasn’t been seen over the winter. Out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a return to Australia. 5
AT THE BACK
Danny Batth: A first pick pretty much all season and has been prepared to put his body on the line as a no-nonsense part of regular back line under O’Neill. Heads it, blocks it and looks like he is enjoying defending. 7
Cameron Carter-Vickers: Loan signing was rarely seen until he was surprisingly promoted to first choice non-attacking right-back by Jones. More at home in the middle but times was quickly up after he didn’t know the name of Stoke’s stadium (and owner’s business) in club interview. It wasn’t a good look at a time when positivity was in short supply. 4
James Chester : Hasn’t had much chance to persuade Stoke and O’Neill he should be top of the list for summer transfer activity as he approaches the end of his time at Aston Villa. Protested innocence about late penalty at Luton. 5
Nathan Collins : Started on opening day and became the youngest captain in Stoke City history in the first month of the season. But has had to take a step backwards, perhaps enforced by the club’s position in the league table.
Highly rated by O’Neill and tipped to be a fixture in central defence before too long. 6
Tom Edwards : This should have been the season when Edwards really nailed that right-back slot, having emerged through the second half of last term as a contender for player of the year – and being named Sir Stanley Matthews Footballer of the Year.
But Jones brought in Tommy Smith in pre-season and Edwards hasn’t been able to hold down a regular spot. Still only 21, there is hope he can surge back sooner rather than later.
O’Neill said at last week’s fans’ forum: “He’s very much a part of the squad and training with the squad. Against Reading, I felt his confidence looked short and he looked anxious. He seemed to suffer a bit and he’s young and sometimes you have to take young players out of that situation.
“Also we spent quite a bit of money on Tommy Smith, but Tom is very much in the plans, but he’s going to have to do more to push his way into the team. He’s got the potential, but the onus is on Tom to fulfil that potential.” 5
Liam Lindsay : A key man as Barnsley won promotion on a sea of clean sheets but he has been in and out of the side at the bet365.
A threat at set pieces and gained form and confidence next to Batth over the festive period before training ground injury and arrival of James Chester saw him consigned to the sidelines. 5
Bruno Martins Indi : It is a back-handed compliment to Martins Indi, with one look at his CV, to say that he should be absolutely dominating games at this level. Moved out to left-back under O’Neill, where he has provided more solidity, but Stoke and himself should want more than that.
O’Neill said: “Bruno is maybe not a natural attacking left back, but he’s used to play left of a back three in Holland so playing on the left of a four isn’t asking too much of him.
“The left-back situation is something we will look at going forward though. If I’m honest, Bruno looks more comfortable at left back than centre half in the Championship.” 5
Ryan Shawcross: What a miss. Was looking in form and supremely fit before breaking a leg in the final friendly of pre-season. Was inspirational in the season-changing Boxing Day rally to beat Sheffield Wednesday – and that alone shouldn’t be underestimated.
Had returned to training and the bench this month and will hopefully be firing whenever football resumes. 6
Tommy Smith: A topsy turvy season for Tommy after joining from Huddersfield. That late December win over Sheffield Wednesday was his only win of a haunting 2019. Has since cemented his position at right-back and provided a couple of key crosses, including one to set up the opener for Nick Powell against Hull.
Tested defensively at times but, at 27, there is hope that he is coming into his own again after a difficult time. 6
Josh Tymon: A left-field start to the season as he went on loan to Portuguese minnows Famalicao and helped them challenge at the top of the top flight. Lost his place to a loan left-back tipped to be one of the future best left-backs in the world, Alex Centelles, on loan from Valencia.
Hasn’t been able to force his way into O’Neill’s regular plans, with only a run out at Derby so far. 5
Stephen Ward: Second fiddle to James McClean at left-back under Jones but given a run under O’Neill to provide a platform for the turnaround. Hasn’t featured in 2020, having played with a back injury at the end of 2019. 5
IN THE MIDDLE
Joe Allen: The season started with *that* miss against Derby and he was trying to put out fires all over the pitch for the first couple of months. Has benefitted hugely from O’Neill’s disciplined team shape and his drive has been a valuable factor since November. No doubt even he felt the pressure and it sounded like he regretted that pre-Christmas ear-cupping celebration.
But the reaction to that horrible Achilles injury last week – from manager, teammates and supporters – was a demonstration of the esteem in which he’s held.
“He’s a great lad,” said O’Neill, “and when you’re a coach and a manager you want the good lads to get the rewards and do well in the game. Joe’s a low maintenance player but a high output player.”
Who knows how much action he’ll actually miss? 6
Sam Clucas: Consistent well-timed runs behind the opposition defence mean it’s not a coincidence that he’s been ready to pounce and become the first central midfielder in 21 years to score 10 in a league season for Stoke.
Not all have been from close range either – two rippers at Barnsley and one against Swansea the pick – and he’s played through pain in his foot for a few months too. A player for O’Neill to build his team around.
The manager said last week: “Clucas has been brilliant, no doubt about that.
“Not only the types of goals that he does score but his all-round play, his quality on the ball, his ability to win the second ball, competition to win the ball in the air. Everything.
“I didn’t really know Sam much as a player before I came to the club but quite quickly I realised I had a top class player on my hands and he’s proven to be that.” 8
Jordan Cousins: The surprise signing of last summer as Jones looked back to his time at Charlton under-21s when he needed a player for that key holding role at the base of his midfield diamond.
Yet, having started the first game under Jones, Cousins was then consigned to the sidelines until O’Neill took charge.
An away trip to Middlesbrough apart, he has been largely reliable when called upon – until usurped by a change of formation to accommodate Nick Powell. 6
Mark Duffy: Blink and you’ll miss him. A major part of Sheffield United’s promotion campaign, hurried in on deadline day by Jones and Mark Cartwright – only to barely feature before he was let back to join up with Alan Pardew in Holland. A bizarre episode, even if none of it was his fault. 4
Peter Etebo: Missed pre-season due to the Africa Cup of Nations and didn’t play after October due to injury and apparently making it clear he saw his future elsewhere. The bit in between showed glimpses of potential, even if that wasn’t turned into goals and assists or defensive contributions as often as it should have been.
Has worked his way into the team on loan at Getafe, who have an option to make the deal permanent. 5
James McClean: A one-man personification of the turnaround. O’Neill aborted Jones’s left-back experiment and has McClean has delivered in spades after being restored to the wing, chipping in with assists and goals and crucially setting the tempo for aggression and energy.
Has hit career highs in terms of fitness performance and high intensity runs. 8
Badou Ndiaye: The one Stoke player still playing – just out in Turkey as he tries to claim a third Super Lig title in a row.
Missed pre-season like Etebo after helping Senegal reach Africa Cup of Nations final and was allowed to sit out until mid-September in hope he could get a move away. No one doubted his commitment when he was on the pitch but barely figured in any happy times at Stoke.
A couple of marks here just for his joyous celebration in the late drama at Swansea, lifting Jones up like the opening scene in Lion King. 5
Tashan Oakley-Boothe: Suddenly burst to the fore in the closing stages at Hull to give a brief glimpse of why he had caught O’Neill’s eye when Tottenham belatedly sanctioned his departure in January. Great skill and cool head to set up goal for Nick Powell. Exciting. 6
Nick Powell: Rarely injured when he was left in the stands by Jones, who had seemed to put great hopes on his qualities at number 10 when he won the race to sign him from Wigan last summer.
But a massive talent who has come increasingly to the fore under O’Neill, primarily in the middle but also out on the left in McClean’s absence. Craft and swagger were to be expected but his work rate, energy and cheeky smile whenever there’s a ruck are a massive bonus.
O’Neill said: “I’ve found Nick great. He’s surprised me a little bit because you can come in and have a perception of players in terms of what they give to a team.
“Nick’s work rate and his athleticism has been the real surprise for me. What he’s given the team from that aspect has been fantastic.
“I’ve found Nick great,” said the manager. “He’s surprised me a little bit because you can come in and have a perception of players in terms of what they give to a team.
“Nick’s work rate and his athleticism has been the real surprise for me. What he’s given the team from that aspect has been fantastic.
It’s an eight or nine in 2020, if only the season had started on New Year’s Day. 7
Jordan Thompson: Already looking a promising find after joining for an undisclosed fee from Blackpool in January. Neat and tidy and in place to make interceptions after being drafted in at the base of midfield. 7
Ryan Woods: It’s just not worked out at Stoke – and you’d have got long odds on that when Woods was handed the captain’s armband almost immediately after walking into midfield. Option to make loan permanent at Millwall. 5
Benik Afobe: Strange! Looked in fine nick at the start of pre-season and spoke about losing weight and showing ‘the real Benik Afobe’. Then hardly featured in friendlies… but was chucked in on opening day… and then let go to Bristol City. Scored three quick goals at Ashton Gate but then had his season all-but finished by injury.
Returned to training at Ashton Gate but still scheduled to head back to Stoke for pre-season.
But all of that is overshadowed by the tragic death of Afobe’s daughter, which doesn’t half help keep things in perspective. A clearly popular fella who deserves some good luck. 6
Tyrese Campbell: Had one foot out of the door, with Glasgow Rangers lurking ready to pounce, until O’Neill arrived, saw his potential and promoted him to front line centre-forward.
Has been brilliant, particularly at home, when his pace and power and finishing instinct has given defenders the jitters, created space for teammates and set the approach for the whole team.
Thank goodness he’s tied down to a long-term deal. 7
Mame Diouf: Weirdly ostracised by Jones and has remained on the fringes under O’Neill – but he scored an injury-time winner that raised the roof against Wigan in O’Neill’s first home game and that was so important. 6
Lee Gregory: Work rate never in doubt and if he had the finishing to match he’d have had a career at the top level. Ended Stoke’s penalty hoodoo, however, and never looks in doubt when he steps up from the spot. 6
Scott Hogan: We will always have Swansea. We wrote in greater depth here when he was named Championship player of the month for February. 6
Tom Ince: Only one goal to his name in 2019 and that should never happen, even if he was used in different positions. Looked to be slowly finding his feet under O’Neill and if he can recapture the scoring form he has showed at this level for most of his career it would be a boon. 6
Julien Ngoy : All-but forgotten after returning from loan in Zurich, until a brief cameo at Brentford in the FA Cup demonstrated why everyone was so excited about this lad four years ago. The onus is on him for us to see more of it. 5
Thibaud Verlinden: Star potential shown in glimpses on loan at Bolton after a difficult couple of years and the path was opening up for him after being recalled until injury struck – and another horrible injury, too.
O’Neill has been keen to show support during a long recuperation period and hopefully 2020/21, whenever or however it takes off, will be the season Verlinden comes to the front. 6
Sam Vokes: Stoke should have been able to hang their hat on Vokes’s experience to lead the line in the Championship when he was brought in from Burnley. Seven goals but he has been leapfrogged in the pecking order by Campbell. 6