Stoke’s story is completely different to Sunderland’s – but they’re headed the same way

This might be a tough read for Potters fans.

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When a manager is publicly admitting that they should be sacked, it’s probably a sign that all is not right at a football club.

Yet, that is exactly what happened at Stoke last night after a humiliating defeat at home to Huddersfield.

Manager Nathan Jones basically begged the board to swing the axe and cut him loose after the Potters slipped to an eighth league defeat of the season in just 10 games.

Stoke are already six points adrift of safety in the Championship and with a difficult away trip to Swansea coming up at the weekend, they may even be further away by the time they head into the international break next week.

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It has been a stark fall from grace for a club that had established themselves as a Premier League mainstay as recently as 2017 and could boast a starting XI including multiple Champions League winners.

When Xherdan Shaqiri surprisingly signed for Stoke in 2015, following an unsuccessful stint at Bayern Munich, most pundits predicted great things from the Potters and for a time they were right.

Stoke played some glorious football in 2015/16 and absolutely tore Manchester United to pieces in a Boxing Day fixture in the same season.

A forward line consisting of Bojan, Marko Arnuatovic and Shaqiri was hard for any defence to handle when they were on song and the prospect of the club being relegated just two seasons later was unfathomable.

There is now a very real prospect of Stoke following in Sunderland’s footsteps and sinking even further if things do not drastically improve.

However, while Sunderland’s demise was entirely predictable, Stoke’s has caught almost everybody by surprise.

Sunderland were on the precipice of Premier League relegation for several seasons and only prolonged their stay in the top-flight due to a series of miraculous escapes.

They were many people’s tip to go down from 2013 until they eventually did in 2017.

It was hardly surprising that they were relegated again a season later either. Sunderland lost virtually every player that had performed respectably in 2017 and replaced them with has-beens and nobodies, making a second successive relegation almost inevitable.

Stoke, on the other hand, never gave any indication of an impending relegation.

They had survived comfortably in midtable the season previous and had never been involved in a true relegation scrap since their promotion to the Premier League.

In fact, they had well and truly established themselves as a midtable club with genuine aspirations of breaking into the top seven in 2016.

When Stoke were relegated, much to the shock of the footballing world, most pundits expected them to rebound instantly, as Newcastle had done in 2017 or as West Ham had done in 2012.

Where Sunderland basically accepted that they would be relegated again from the get-go, Stoke signed extremely well in the summer of 2018 as they prepared to escape from the Championship at the first attempt.

The likes of Tom Ince, James McClean and Sam Clucas were proven Championship players and, perhaps more importantly, they had managed to hang on to experienced international players like Jack Butland, Bruno Martins Indi and Joe Allen.

Even the signing of Benik Afobe from Bournemouth looked like it could be a good one.

Things didn’t gel last season for Stoke for whatever reason as they stumbled to a 16th place finish, closer to the relegation zone than the playoffs both in terms of league position and points.

The inconsistent performances caused Stoke to part ways with Gary Rowett and approach Nathan Jones, who had guided Luton Town to the summit of League One.

Stoke have plumbed new depths since Jones took the reins and his dealings in the summer transfer window must be scrutinised as a result.

Even at the time, Jones’ summer signings reeked of Stoke under Tony Pulis.

Lee Gregory, Stephen Ward and Tommy Smith aren’t players who will attract big crowds because of their renowned ball-playing ability and Stoke seemed to regress massively again over the summer.

Having said that, they still have plenty of international experience in their ranks and those players need to stand up and be counted.

The Joe Allen’s of this world are too good to be involved in a Championship relegation battle and if Jones is to survive at Stoke, he needs more than a little help from his senior players.

For the moment though, Jones must be wondering why on earth he ever left Luton Town as he cranes his neck to look up at them in the league table.

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