Stoke are rooted rock-bottom of the Championship table, with just two points and a dressing room full of despondency, but where has it all gone wrong for Nathan Jones?
Sinking Stoke’s stinking stats
While many teams in history have endured a bad start to the season and survived, there is no sign of life from the one-time Europa League knockout stage participants. As can be seen on championship markets pertaining to the relegation dogfight, the odds in favour of Stoke doing as they did as recently as 1998, and dropping into the third tier, shorten by the week.
One look at the key stats at the start of October tells us all why.
Stoke’s October-opening 1-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Huddersfield was significant, in that it extended what was already a club-record streak of Championship games on home turf without a win to eleven. Including last Tuesday’s reverse, five of those were defeats, all coming in this season alone. As if that was not enough, Stoke will go into the October international break having conceded at least twice in eight of their last nine Championship home games
The lack of fight is evident in multiple ways. Ahead of the first weekend of October, Stoke have now lost five of the six matches to feature their opponents netting the opening goal. However, with the Potters also losing after scoring the opener in their two Championship home games prior to the Huddersfield defeat, it seems as though even grinding out a win is now beyond them.
Stoke’s run gets no easier after the international break, with the Potters entertaining a newly-relegated Fulham side, before making trips to Hillsborough and The Den. On current evidence, they will get precisely nothing from those trips, and further defeats will not only see the end of Nathan Jones, but also, realistically, the end of Stoke’s second-tier status.
How Jones became Potters boss
His journey into managing came when he succeeded Sammi Hyppia at Brighton. He had a win-rate of 50% as the Sussex club’s interim manager, but it was not to be, with Jones opting to become a permanent manager elsewhere.
Seeking a young, dynamic manager with progressive ideas on the touchline, Luton Town came calling in 2016, at a time when the Bedfordshire club looked likely to drop out of the Football League. Making a drastic change in playing personnel during the January transfer window, Jones was hailed as a hero, as he brought a new, energetic playing style to the club.
He would be successful in steering the Hatters away from the dreaded drop, and after a summer of shrewd recruitment, went all-out to get Luton promoted.
While wholesale changes can easily backfire, Jones’ pragmatic approach would be hailed as a success, as Luton gained promotion to League One with a game to spare in 2017/18. He also laid the groundwork for Luton’s second successive promotion last season, leaving the Hatters in the automatic promotion berths of League One when he departed for Stoke back in January.
On paper, this is a natural move up for someone like Jones, but it would never be as simple as that. The expectations of Stoke fans, players and board are leagues higher than those of Luton, and this has ultimately proven to be a step too far.
Floundering Jones out of his depth
The fact that the likes of Jack Butland, Bruno Martins Indi, Joe Allen remain in-situ makes Stoke’s situation all the more inexplicable.
By deduction, it all boils down to inexperience. Jones is essentially little more than a third-tier manager dealing with top-flight personalities, and the odds were always firmly against him making his Stoke spell a success.
The brutal truth is that Jones does not have the experience needed to pull Stoke out of this nosedive, and in a refreshing, very admirable example of managerial candour, he recently went public with his own belief that this is so.
Where do Stoke go from here?
While the injury to captain Ryan Shawcross has clearly made an impact on Stoke, the players needed to change the outlook are there. There are worse teams on paper, but it will take a manager with far greater experience than Jones to prevent the Potters’ relegation.
Chris Hughton has emerged as the frontrunner for the Stoke hot seat in recent days, going into the first weekend of October as the odds-on favourite to replace Jones. Alan Pardew has also seen his own odds drop, though his market average of 5/1 keeps the smart money on Hughton. As a former Brighton manager himself, Hughton may still have a place for Jones in some capacity.
Having taken Brighton up as recently as 2017, his ability to draw upon his Premier League pedigree to get Stoke out of the mire stands as the primary reasoning behind his odds-on status.
It is not too late for the Potters, but change must come now – the alternative is unthinkable for a club that is still readjusting to life away from the elite.