A time when I would hope to mould the squad a little but more importantly get rid of some of the unwanted players.
Matches and Roundup
A New Years Day fixture at home to Tottenham. Another tough game against a side containing Dele Alli, Toni Kroos, Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane amongst others. They were only mid table but they were a decent side.
When it came to picking the side for the game, David Ospina was back from suspension but his replacement, David Watt had just picked up the Young Player of the Month award for his efforts during December. It would kill his confidence to be dropped after that and I may need him again in the future. Ospina would warm the bench.
The side was unchanged. One drawback was that Aguero won Player of the Month so we knew he would be bang in form as well.
Lascelles and Yoshida would be busy no doubt.
We came out of the blocks like a train. Spurs didn't know what hit them. They were rocked back on their heals and we took full advantage as Andy Hopkins gave us the lead after just three minutes. We thought that would be as good as it got as Cristian Tello equalised on half an hour but near the end of the first half, Hopkins had a goal disallowed for a very dubious offside but not to be deterred, we attacked again and did get our goal, through Jonathan Williams.
The second half was a rear guard action like I had never seen before but we held out for a famous win.
Stoke 2-1 Tottenham
Next up was an FA Cup Third Round tie against Colchester United. They were 13th in League One but the two clubs had met in the very recent past as Colchester had knocked Stoke out of the League Cup on penalties at the third round stage after a 2-2 draw. If I wanted to get out of Stoke as quickly as possible, the FA Cup would be the only way to do it this season.
For that reason, I was to take the Cup seriously. There would be no resting of players or playing kids. A first team would be put out and I would hope to go as far as possible.
On the morning of the game, Ryan Gauld announced that he would be leaving the club in the summer at the end of his contract. After transfer listing him already I wasn't too fussed but his timing could have been better.
Aaron Cresswell resumed full training and he instantly won back his left back spot. Ospina remained on the bench. It was a comfortable game for us on the whole. We went ahead after a Colchester defender put through his own goal on 26 minutes and when Jonathan Williams added a second just before half time, the game was won.
Colchester actually pulled one back but it was never nervy as Hopkins, Ince and King added goals to make it a very comfortable win and take us through to the 4th Round.
Stoke 5-1 Colchester
The next match would be our toughest test yet. Spurs was one thing but now we were welcoming the might of Chelsea. They were five points clear at the top of the table. They also had a game in hand. They had stars all over the pitch but were also clever enough to be blooding young up and coming players like Dominic Solanke and Isaiah Brown.
Nobody gave us a chance. I talked of this in the changing room. Players heads were down before they had even taken to the field so I told them to just make sure that they gave a good account of themselves and the rest would take care of itself.
Ospina returned in goal in the only change. I feared I would need a slightly better keeper in goal for this one and I was proved right as they literally bombarded our goal for 94 minutes. Shot after shot was either blocked or saved but to the lads credit, we were only breached once, in the 12th minute. Everything else after that was repelled and they showed me fighting spirit and a willingness to put their bodies on the line which I knew we would need if we were going to stay up.
Stoke 0-1 Chelsea
We had to bounce back quickly as the next game would be one that was vital if we were going to stay up. It was one extreme to the other as after facing top of the table Chelsea, it was now on to visiting bottom of the pile Cardiff. These types of games were where I would come into my own. This is where in the run up to the game, I had to motivate a team of players who were low on confidence, had just been given a footballing lesson by a top side and who were not able to look forward properly yet to the thought of playing in this division next season.
If we could win this one though, it would go someway to making that dream a reality.
On the morning of the game, Ante Coric made his long awaited departure for America so there was one less person on the team bus going over the border of England and Wales. What it did mean was a bit more money in the transfer funds but I wasn't thinking about that. My mind was focussed solely on the game. West Brom also agreed terms on a Bosman free move for Ryan Gauld as well but that would not happen until the summer.
As for the Cardiff match, Cristian Gamboa's form at right back had not warranted him keeping his place so Emil Salomonsson came in. Adam Armstrong was also given a rest up front as Simon Cox came in to play and hopefully put himself in the shop window for a move.
I certainly wasn't counting any chickens but even though we were away from home, I knew we should have the measure of Cardiff.
How wrong I was. We were over run in every department. Both Hopkins and Cox played poorly up front, Yoshida did not play well at the back and neither did Cresswell, Andy King had a mare in midfield. This all added up to us being defeated as Cardiff scored three times before Tom Ince managed to grab a late consolation goal.
Cardiff 3-1 Stoke
I'm a half decent poker player. There is a term in the sport called being on tilt. "On tilt" is essentially used when someone who is letting their luck affect the way they play.
I'm afraid to say I did this as after the Cardiff defeat I went out and bought pretty much the first players that I saw in front of me. I lost a hand I felt I should win and then I just threw mney at the next pot withut even looking at my cards. Josh Scowen and Fred Onyedinma both jined the club and although the purchases were offset by the sale of Demarai Gray, if I really sat down and thought about it, they were not Premier League class players.
But now that I had bought them, I felt compelled to use them and Onyedinma came straight in and made his debut in the next match against Swansea at home, coming in for Adam King. I resisted the urge to make any more changes.
The debutant did well and was in the running for man of the match but the forward line of Hopkins and Cox both had much improved performances and shared a goal each with Cox just edging the man of the match honours.
Stoke 2-0 Swansea
The final game of the month took us back into FA Cup action and a home tie against Huddersfield Town of the Championship. The Swansea win had brought back a bit of the confidence and I had a full week on the training field to try and raise it further and by game day I was confident of progression.
The side was unchanged as they had recovered well and also performed well during the week. And they proved to me early that I was right in my judgement. Onyedinma scored after just three minutes but we were pegged back on 22 minutes. It was a lot more even than I had expected and Derek McInnes had obviously sent his side out fired up to beat us. At 1-1 at half time, it could go either way and when they scored 40 seconds into the second half, we were on the ropes. Emil Salomonsson scored his first Stoke goal on 63 minutes to bring us back level and when Tom Ince scored with 10 on the clock, I thought that was it.
I was happy when the final whistle blew and it was!
Stoke 3-2 Huddersfield
Josh Scowen - £100,000
Fred Onyedinma - £1.8m
Ante Coric - £8.75m (plus 25% future fee)
Demarai Gray - £7.5m
All in all a decent enough month but with some serious blips. Maybe I am expecting too much from a side that couldn't buy a win when I took over.
A six game month saw us make a big profit after the Coric and Gray sales. Income was at £19.58m and expenditure just £6.66mm. A £12.91m profit to start the new year. The balance now stands at £14.58m. And the board are giving me pretty much all of it with a transfer budget of £14.5m.
Amazingly, 5 of the 6 matches in the month were at home and they yielded attendances of 32744, 25856, 32747, 33168 and 27471. It's interesting to see that more people turned out to watch Swansea than they did runaway leaders Chelsea.
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Another good month in league - as you say - you cannot be greedy the position you were in.
Moving nicely away from bottom 3 all the time
Not impressed with the 2 signings but superb stuff on the selling front!
Like Red says two great sales there, but not impressed with the signings, definite panic buying after the Cardiff defeat.
Just 4 pts behind 11th mate, and plenty of time to climb that table.
How dare you lose to Cardiff! Can remember the days of being in the old 2nd Division when we had a bit of a rivalry going with them, after losing Kavanagh and Thorne to them.
Anyhow - Some decent results in there either way and a nice FA Cup run!
Agreed that those 2 new faces don't look brilliant. Yet the wheeling and dealing continues, still can't believe some of the prices that you get for players. What is your secret?!
Gray's was a minimum fee release and Coric was actually worth that.
It really was panic buying as I was short in centre mid and didn't want to play remaining wingers out of position.