After their relegation from the Premier League at the end of last season, many would have had Stoke City down as one of their favourites to bounce straight back up at the first attempt. Unfortunately, the same could have been said for Sunderland at the start of the 2017/18 campaign but the Black Cats ended up finishing rock bottom of the Championship, and now it looks as though the Potters could be going the same way.
Despite rescuing a late 1-1 draw against high-flying Sheffield United on Tuesday, Stoke are currently 17th in the league and just five points off the bottom three – a worrying difference in a league that is as competitive as the Championship.
Although things clearly aren’t looking quite as bleak for the Potters as they were for Sunderland last year, there are certainly similarities to be drawn between the recent history of the two clubs.
Sunderland were last promoted to the Premier League in 2007 and spent 10 years in the top flight before their first of two straight relegations in 2017. Stoke were just one year behind the Black Cats though, promoted in 2008 and subsequently relegated earlier this year, but will they suffer the same fate a year later with relegation to League 1?
The first similarity between the clubs comes in the turnover of managers, proving that the hierarchy are more concerned with short term gains than implementing any kind of philosophy or plan for the future. After Mark Hughes was sacked by the Potters in January this year they have since had Paul Lambert and now Gary Rowett in the role, whereas Sunderland are on their third boss since dropping out of the Premier League.
The second similarity to be drawn is the clear evidence that the two clubs have made huge mistakes in the transfer market both just before and straight after their relegations from the Premier League, and Stoke fans will be hoping that theirs don’t turn out to be as costly as the errors at the Stadium of Light.
For example, big-money 2016 signings Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong were both finally sacked by the Wearside club at the start of this season having failed to return for pre-season training before their League 1 campaign.
Although Stoke’s problems haven’t quite been this dramatic, they do have big-name players who are either failing to perform or look like they don’t want to be in the second tier of English football.
25-year-old striker Saido Berahino, who signed for £12m in January 2017, has only netted three times in 43 appearances for the club and 34-year-old summer signing Ashley Williams looks like a poor choice of centre-back.
Compared to Swansea and West Brom, who were also relegated from the Premier League last season, Stoke’s use of their parachute payment has been decidedly average – spending £5m on James McClean should instantly make any club candidates for relegation.
After Sunderland finished at the bottom of the Championship last season, it was clear that a number of their senior players had an attitude problem with playing in the second tier. Stoke boss Rowett then will have to ensure that his players are switched on to the real danger of successive relegations.
Obviously, fortunes can change extremely quickly in the Football League and a couple of wins on the bounce would see Stoke pushing for the playoff places, but right now the club need to heed the warnings from Sunderland to ensure that the fall from grace at the Bet365 stadium is not as bad as the similarities suggest.