Back on the road again, the Lads take the trip to the mythical city that is Stoke for the latest round of the EFL Championship, hoping to get back to winning ways with a patched up squad. For the home side, they’ll be looking to get the three points after a lean couple of weeks in the heat of August.
After ten years in the Premier League the Potters have somewhat become the archetypal mid-table Championship team following their relegation to the second tier in 2018.
With manager Michael O’Neill in his fourth season with the route one Staffordshire outfit, he’ll be hoping to shake off that mid-table mediocracy and ‘rainy night at Stoke’ reputation. Their start has been slow with only one win, two losses and a draw, which leaves them of course, mid-table.
Stoke got the charity bag out letting a few household names leave this summer, with Joe Allen, Tom Ince, James Chester and Benick Afobe amongst those away from the Bet365 Stadium.
Also on the move were former Lads strikers Stephen Fletcher and the one that got away, Josh Maja, who has returned to Bordeaux on a season long loan. Lanky tattooed centre back Aden Flint has come in from Cardiff, and goal-getter Dwight Gayle has been borrowed from them lot down the road. Brentford winger Tariqe Fosu also comes in to join Josh Laurent in the midfield, who has signed from Championship side Reading.
It would appear Stoke are operating in a frugal manner letting those big earners go, whilst the incomings are either from the loan market or free transfers.
The only signing they may have spent some coin on is the former Leeds winger Liam McCarron who has signed for the always mysterious undisclosed fee. Oh and breaking news.. Liam Delap is in on loan in just enough time to face the Lads.
Stoke tend to play the second tier classic 3-5-2 formation led by captain Lewis Baker, with Jacob Brown and Dwight Gayle leading the line up top.
The Potters also have D’Margio Wright-Phillips, who is the son of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the grandson of Ian Wright.
This makes me feel very old, but not as old as their centre back Phil Jagielka, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Wednesday night with an own goal against Middlesbrough!
Tariqe Fosu will be a player to watch in a midfield that will include Sam Clucas, and the brilliantly named Willy Smallbone… he must love his parents.
For the Lads they’ve come out of the spirited display again Sheffield United slightly worse off as Danny Batth nurses a groin strain, and Dan Neil faces suspension for his red card.
Corry Evans is likely to remain injured, joining Dan Ballard, Carl Winchester, Niall Huggins and Leon Dajaku on the side lines.
Jay Matete has undoubtedly forced his way back into the centre of midfield with a very composed display Wednesday night, and Bailey Wright will likely be essential if either Batth is out, or Luke O’Nien is required in midfield.
This could force a very young bench and make Alex Neil’s in-game management very testing. But that is the predicament the owners and recruitment team have left Neil in, so the Scotsman will just have to deal with it in the short term.
Although Stoke are a hardened and weathered Championship side, Neil has got the Lads learning tier two lessons on the job. We also have an identity and attacking flair that can hurt any side in this division, when applied.
If we don’t have to go to deep in terms of resources Saturday, there’s no reason why away points can’t be had. Time to get Stoke potted. Ha’way the Lads!