A common topic for conversation during a pre-match pint is how low would you accept Stoke finishing if it meant we won a cup, this attitude reflects the difficulty of the Premier League and how silverware will always top mid table mediocrity for the fans. My Stoke side, who were developing into one of the best sides in the league, would push this debate to the foreground of my head for the next 18 months.
January started with the moving on of the old guard, Crouch had already departed to QPR on loan in the summer and he was joined in the Championship by Walters, who moved permanently to Brighton, and Whelan, who moved on loan to Villa. Juventus playmaker Hernanes was brought in to continue the evolution in the centre of midfield. On the pitch Stoke began with good results in the two cup fixtures, but absolute spankings at the hands of Chelsea and Arsenal, which was probably owed to us after our lucky results at Anfield and White Hart Lane last month.
Verlinden had managed to score his first professional goal in the Forest cup tie at the young age of 17, something I was very proud to see. Focusing on youth development was not something I was overly concerned with but this did not mean I would neglect my duties in bringing stars through. February started with a goaless draw against West Brom, and signalled my main concern with the system. This was the second time the Baggies had managed to hold us to a scoreless tie, and Sunderland would add their second at the start of next month, along with Hull adding one. It seemed the side struggled to break through a team who sat deep and contained my front three, Stoke went on to finish 5 points outside European qualification and it was clear that an inability to break sides down had cost us.
The Cup saw us drawn away to high flyers Watford, but we had already thrashed them this season could we do it again? In short yes, Shaqiri put the side 2 up at half time and Afellay added at the opening of the second to ensure that Stoke would gain a trip to Wembley for a semi-final. Injuries began to draw the side relatively thin, so despite a dominant win against Burnley, Watford managed to claim revenge in a 1-0 win over a threadbare side. The Potters recovered from this with a comeback win against the Eagles as Ryan Shawcross headed home from a corner in the 89th minute. Everything looked even better as Stoke moved themselves 2 goals clear of struggling City at the Etihad. Then the entire season imploded.
Silva and Otamendia had levelled the game at half time, my words of encouragement fell on deaf ears and city romped into a two-goal lead that they saw out for the victory. Next came Liverpool in the Semi Final, and the 2-1 score flattered Stoke, it was a somewhat dull game but Liverpool absolutely dominated it and the inability of their attackers to finish prevented it being a rout. Ngoy was deployed, as I abandoned my striker-less formation and provided the travelling fans with some brief and fleeting hope. It was clear these two moral sapping losses took their toll on the squad as we only claimed one more win. Despite two positive draws against Spurs and United, Stoke slumped to a traditional-all together now-9th place finish.
The season finished on a disappointing note, after the early success it looked like Stoke were going to be able to do something special. Yet only getting 5 out of a possible 18 points in the last six games of the season saw us slip into mid table mediocrity, the exact thing I was trying to drag Stoke out of. On a whole I was not disappointed, I had managed to create a false nine system that worked and in some matches was devastating. Despite the semi-final result being an unsatisfactory one Wembley and my side were not finished and I was certain I could take us back there.
End of Season Awards
Fans player of the year – Giannelli Imbula
Manager’s player of the year – Fabian Delph
Top Scorer – Bojan (12)