Stoke City face Milwall at the bet365 Stadium today in a crucial match for the Potters.
Not only are points vital with Stoke stuck in the middle of a relegation fight, but also the added factor of Gary Rowatt returning to the club where he was fired just over a year ago makes this even more important.
Rowatt is by no means a bad coach and judging on the success, or lack-thereof, that Nathan Jones enjoyed in the Potteries, he wasn’t doing that bad a job. There were obvious disagreements between him and the board about the transfer process and many of the signings brought in under his watch haven’t worked out, but he still had Stoke in a better position than they are in now.
Unfortunately for Stoke fans, he has gone on to show his best form with Milwall, guiding the south London club to seventh in the Championship with a group of players that on paper is worse than the group at the disposal of Michael O’Neill later today. But this is the problem Stoke have to overcome. In the Premier League, what eventually came back to haunt the club was it’s willingness to allow senior, well-paid players to give less than their best on match day.
Too many overpaid, former stars were accommodated and now, nearly 18 months on from relegation the squad is still recovering from this. However, with a coach like O’Neill and a squad that is being renewed with younger, hungrier players coming through, there is hope.
In Thibaud Verlinden, Tyrese Campbell, Nathan Collins and Julian Ngoy, Stoke could have the beginning of a new team and it is on days like today that they must take it upon themselves to prove that.