It was certainly a weekend of exciting football and many will have been watching the crucial match between Stoke City and Crystal Palace as Stoke battled to remain in the Premier League. Unfortunately for Stoke fans, they lost 2 – 1 at home and will be dropping into the Championship. The game in many ways summed up the two teams’ season and highlighted exactly what has led to Stoke City’s relegation.
📹 Paul Lambert gives his reaction after the Potters were relegated to the Championship following today's defeat against @CPFC
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) May 5, 2018
Throughout the match Palace looked calm, in control and more than ready to handle whatever Stoke could throw at them under the experienced hand of manager Roy Hodgson. Stoke, on the other hand, looked disorganised, chaotic and crumbled under pressure as soon as James McArthur drew Palace level.
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It was obvious to anyone watching why Palace and Hodgson can be cautiously optimistic about next season’s Premier League campaign. However, Stoke face the difficult task of rebuilding and finding their footing in the ultra-competitive world of the Championship.
When Crystal Palace sacked Frank de Boar after four Premier League losses without a goal the club came in for widespread criticism, however, chairman Steve Parish has now been vindicated as the team is safe in the Premier League and looking rejuvenated.
The dismissal of De Boer so soon after the confidence of his appointment was the direct result of poor decision making on the part of the team. But Parish will now argue that they realised that they had made a mistake and acted in time to save themselves.
In direct contrast to this, Stoke kept faith with their manager Mark Hughes until their defeat in the third round of the FA Cup at League Two Coventry City, and now find themselves suffering the opposite fate to Palace.
Stoke’s return and consolidation in the Premier League had been orchestrated by the Coates family. They are well known for their patience and support for managers and it is of course easy to criticise them in hindsight. Clearly this is exactly what has happened as the team’s fate was decided surrounded by empty seats and tearful players and supporters at the bet365 Stadium.
However, looking backwards, the problems started as far back as the turn of last year as Stoke won just six of their last 19 league games to finish thirteenth, their worst position under Hughes. Whereas the team has a tradition of strong defence and an excellent home environment, these quickly became their biggest weaknesses as in 19 home games in the Premier League this season they won just five and lost nine. Furthermore, the appointment of Paul Lambert had a hint of desperation after names such as Derby County’s Gary Rowett and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill distanced themselves from the job.
Lambert has moved around a lot since he was sacked by Aston Villa and has spent time at Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers before moving to Stoke. He began the job with great enthusiasm, possibly too much as his body language on Saturday suggested that he was completely frantic rather than presenting the calm and composed front his players may have needed. In doing so, he only succeeded in ramping up the levels of anxiety felt around the stadium.
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In short, Lambert has not managed to make any difference to a team that looked set for relegation when he took over. He has been in charge of the team for 14 league games, winning just one, drawing seven and losing six. The team now have the worst defensive record in the Premier League with 67 goals conceded and the worst goal difference at -34.
In the game’s programme notes Lambert wrote, “We lack for nothing in terms of heart, spirit and togetherness.” While this may be true, the team was sorely lacking in quality, composure, organisation and confidence. This is a deadly combination and ultimately it is what brought Stoke’s ten-year run in the Premier League to an end.
While Lambert will always be the manager that Stoke were relegated under, the team’s fall from the Premier League started a long way before he took over at the team.
Stoke’s poor end to the 2016/17 season was continued at the start of this campaign and it certainly was not helped by a poor transfer strategy that was unable to bring the improvement that was obviously needed after last campaign.
When Xherdan Shaqiri arrived for £12 million from Inter Milan in August 2015 he brought a new level of quality to the team and seemed to be carrying all of their hopes until last weekend. During the match he took an excellent free-kick that offered real hope of survival, but ultimately it was undone by Palace after half time.
In August the former Real Madrid forward Jese arrived on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, but after a promising start in which he scored the winner on his debut against Arsenal, he has faded. Similarly, defender Kevin Wimmer has been a failure and has almost disappeared entirely from view since he joined from Tottenham Hotspur for £18 million.
Fans will also be unforgiving of the signing of Saido Berahino who was brought from West Bromwich in January 2017 for £12 million. He was once considered one of England’s most promising young talents, but now it seems as if his career is virtually over. Berahine has played in 28 games for the team, starting in just eleven of them, and he has failed to score a goal in 1,206 minutes of playing time at Stoke City.
Just a quick look at the current squad shows how desperate things have become at Stoke City. They are still relying on Peter Crouch for goals at the age of 37, while 33 year old Glen Johnson had a very difficult afternoon before his substitution.
On the bench were Stephen Ireland at 31, Charlie Adam who is 32 and Darren Fletcher who is 34. It is clear that this is a poorly balanced team with too many players who have already had their best days in the Premier League.
Last year the team suffered the loss Marko Arnautovic, a player who seemed to inspire them to another level of play and helped them win numerous matches, when he moved for £24 million to West Ham.
All of this points to the fact that over the last few years Stoke City’s squad has been steadily deteriorating and it now needs urgent rebuilding. Unfortunately, the team face this difficult task in the cutthroat world of the Championship.
Furthermore, this is going to become even harder as England goalkeeper Jack Butland and the talented Shaqiri are unlikely to be happy pursuing their careers in a lower division.
After relegation was confirmed the clearly devastated Lambert said, “It has got to be rebuilt and it will come back strong because of the support it has got behind it. The football club should mirror the supporters because it has got incredible support.”
Despite being pleased to have won the match, Hodgson clearly had sympathy for Stoke afterwards. Nonetheless, he will privately be relieved that he has managed to resuscitate his managerial career after pulling off an impressive turn around at Crystal Palace.
When Hodgson, now 70, resigned as England manager just after the team’s humiliating Euro 2016 exit to Iceland in the last 16, it truly looked as if his career was at an end. However, at a club he has supported ever since he was a boy, he managed to pull off an incredible recovery as Crystal Palace became the first team to stay up after losing their first seven league games since Liverpool in the 1899-1900 season.
He showed a level of diplomacy following the victory and clearly chose his words carefully, all too aware that his hosts were dealing with the disappointment of relegation.
Over the last few months he has clearly been back doing his favourite thing and enjoying it, working on a daily basis at Palace’s training ground. A look at the team’s performance this weekend clearly showed the fruit of his labour and he deserves to be congratulated for it.
The team’s safety in the Premier League was virtually assured before the game but they still showed a great deal more composure and class, especially at the key moments, and they made the best of Wilfried Zaha’s and Andros Townsend’s speed as well as the quality of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield.
Hodgson will already be thinking about next season and the hard work the team has in replacing Loftus-Cheek when he returns to Chelsea. However, he will be pleased that his reputation, which was so badly damaged by his time with England, is now greatly restored.
After the match he paid tribute to his team and support staff who have worked hard to overcome a serious injury problem at the club, and at the same time he was rightly happy to accept the praise offered to him.
“Every orchestra needs a band leader and I have been quite happy to wave the baton. I will get a lot of credit and I won’t be hypocritical and say I won’t enjoy the pats on the back but I am hopefully wise enough to know this is not a one-man job. If you are going to do well at Premier League level you need an awful lot of help from an awful lot of people and I have had that.”