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.
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.
Hopefully more squad changes but also getting more points on the board.
Matches and Roundup
The month started straight away on the first of the month and it couldn't have started in a much harder way. Manchester United were to visitors to the Britannia Stadium and they were up and flying high in second. It was going to be a tough tie and I did not see us getting much from the game. All I could do was send them out motivated and hope for the best. We had to try our best to get something from it though as tough fixures awaited with a visit to the other side of Manchester, games against the big two sides on Merseyside and an FA Cup match on the horizon. I couldn't afford for morale to drop too much.
But, Manchester United were the frst of those encounters. They were a weird beast if I was honest. They did n't really have any star names in the side. David de Gea kept goal for them, Phil Jones and Daley Blind patrolled the back line but the rest of the side was made up of names like Jay Spearing, Conor Coady, Steven Taylor and Andrej Kramaric. But whatever Vincenzo Montella was doing, he was doing it well and they only had Chelsea to overcome to top the table.
I went in unchanged which meant that Simon Cox retained his spot up front next to Hopkins. It was a big call. Adam Armstrong could be a little unhappy not to take the spot but I would need him in games to come so I plumped for Cox.
Roared on by passionate home support, we took the lead after just four minutes. Cox himself rose to nod down a long ball for the onrushing Tom Ince who hit a half volley past de Gea and into the net. It got even better after 33 minutes as Jon Williams doubled our lead and the fans then started to believe that we could actually pull off a result.
In second half injury time, we put the icing on the top as Hopkins was brought down in the box and Aaron Cresswell tucked away the resulting penalty.
The win saw us rise from lowly 17th to the heady heights of 13th in the table.
Stoke 3-0 Man Utd
It was a win I had not expected and as we all came in for training on Monday, the players and my back room team were all understandably buzzing. From the place where we started, bottom of the table, to now be in the mid table places of 13th was great and everyone was appreciating the way we were going about things.
We took that new found confidence into the next game as we travelled to Anfield to play Liverpool. Another side above us but they were only in 9th and Lucien Favre, their manager was under a little pressure. It was an improvement though as they had only managed 10th and 12th placed finishes in the last two full seasons.
This one, in the form we were in, was eminently winnable.
An unchanged side took to the field to try and continue where we had left off. And we did that as we had them pinned in their own half for the first 10 minutes or so but soon after, Andy Hopkins signalled to the bench saying that he needed to come off after picking up a knock. Adam Armstrong quickly completed a warm up and replaced him. That knocked us off our stride slightly but we were holding firm as they came back in to it. By half time, it was anyone's game.
I urged them to get back on top of the game during the break. I told them to concentrate on their passing and wait for gaps to appear and to exploit them.
On 54 minutes, we did just that as we held on to the ball for a number of minutes and strung a number of passes together before Jonathan Williams made a forward run and was found by a crisp pass. He made no mistake to give us the lead.
That lead lasted all of 95 seconds as we lost concentration straight from kick off and a ball over the top landed at the feet of Raheem Sterling who made no mistake.
Back to square one and it was effectively a 34 minute match to see who could come out on top. It was all pretty even until four minutes from time when Adam Armstrong popped up with the ball and slotted it through the keepers legs for the winner. Or so he thought until as he wheeled away in delight he saw the assistants flag raised signifying he took up the ball in an offside position.
I couldn't be too unhappy. It was another point on the board.
Liverpool 1-1 Stoke
So we now had four points from two games that I expected to pick up none so we certainly did not fear going to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City. Maybe we should but confidence was so high at the moment that we felt unbeatable. City themselves, like Liverpool, were in a bit of a blip. Never finishing lower than 4th, they found themselves down in 6th and Joachim Low was having to work hard to keep them in touch. They were now unbeaten in six matches so we knew deep down that it was going to be tough but we were confident.
There did have to be a change as Hopkins had picked up a thigh strain that would keep him out for a couple of weeks so Armstrong started. This was his chance to impress me and earn a permanent spot. It wasn't the easiest one to throw him into though so he knew he had to work hard.
We gave a good account of ourselves but this one was one game to far as we fell to defeat, but a narrow defeat as we lost by just a solitary goal.
Man City 1-0 Stoke
A third away game followed but this one was not in the Premier League, this one was in the FA Cup Fifth Round. And this meant a trip to Carrow Road, Norwich for a place in the next round.
It made for a very even clash. We were one place and three points better off than Norwich and we were both looking to do the same thing. Survive in the top flight and have as long a cup run as we could. This was especially important to me as this was still the only chance, albeit slim, of winning something this season which would allow me to move on.
I wanted to go as far as I could and I picked a side I felt could take me into the next round. Chris Smalling came in to replace Jamaal Lascelles who was still stating to the press that he was unhappy and waiting to see how I changed things after coming in.
This was the only change and so we took to the pitch apprehensive but confident if we could make a good start.
We started slowly but not badly. We were barely tested at the back and this was not unsurprising as Norwich had scored so few goals in the season. What we had to do was be more clinical going forward and we had not been able to do that as the first half drew to a close.
But as we grew in confidence going forward and assserted a little authority on the game we were hit by a sucker punch as Norwich scored on the break.
That meant we had to go more direct as we chased the game and they hit us again, once again on the break to kill the game for us.
We were going out of the cup and it looks as though my stay in Stoke will be stretching into next season.
Norwich 2-0 Stoke
If I'm honest, it was probably only me who was really upset about going out of the cup. The players wanted to concentrate on securing Premier League survival. It was me who had a motive to try and get as far as we could in the FA Cup to aid my moving on to the next club.
I took that on board as morale did not really drop over the next week before the final game of the month which would see us return to play at home against Everton. In the build up to the game, I decided to boost my attacking options after scouring the players on the transfer list. Both good home grown players should be able to fit in quickly, it will allow me to try and move on Sam Winnall, James Alabi and Simon Cox if we can attract bids for them. Having these two alongside Hopkins and Armstrong gives me four very good options up front.
Hopkins had not yet made it back to full fitness so I decided to give them both their debuts in this game.
We had dropped to 16th and were still just three points above the drop zone so every point we could muster would be vital to keep us in the division.
Nine minutes in we needed a reshuffle as Emil Salomonsson picked up an injury, meaning Chris Smalling had to shuffle across to play right back and Lascelles came on to play centre back. It was ironic really as it was touch and go whether I selected the Swede to play right back and I really toyed with the idea of bringing Cristian Gamboa back into the side. It did not put us off our stride as Tom Ince scored after 24 minutes with the first shot on goal in the game.
Despite having the lion's share of possession, we could not put the game to bed until second half injury time when Berahino had a shot blocked but Jonathan Williams tucking away on the rebound. I punched the air and breathed a huge sigh of relief that we had sewn up the points. Another three points on the board.
In the aftermath of the game, Tom Ince decided to inform me that as his contract was expiring and he was not happy with the way things had gone since I had taken over, he was leaving the club and had signed a pre contract agreement with Manchester United.
I was shocked if I was honest and I simply said if he would prefer to sit on the Old Trafford bench instead of being a first teamer with us, that was up to him. If I had other options at the club, he would have played his last game for me. If I can find someone easily, that may still be the case.
Stoke 2-0 Everton
Charlie Austin - £2.5m
Saido Berahino - £2.5m
A month bookended with great wins but with some not so good results in the middle.
Just five matches in the month and with the two new signings near the end of it, I would we would have run at a loss. Income was just £2.02m and expenditure way up at £10.58m. A £8.55m loss to offset the profit we made lat month. The balance now stands at £6.03m. And the board are giving me pretty much all of it with a transfer budget of £5.5m.
Of the five matches, just the two at home, both wins incidentally. Man Utd brought an attendance of 32111 and Everton 32724. Decent figures. Hopefully some more home games await to try and make some money.
* Unhappy with ebfatz using his club as a stepping stone
Great results against Man Utd and Liverpool, typical that it was then followed up by defeat to Norwich! Disappointing indeed to crash out of the cup but at least things are working out well on the pitch.
Tom Ince can f**k off, greedy f****r! Happy to welcome Berahino to the club again! Austin looking expensive at 30 but surely worth the cash.
It was always a slim chance that I would be able to finish Stoke off that quickly. One I didn't really believe was possible and so it proved. Gives me time to look to mould the squad over the summer and go again. Think a cup may be the best chance for now though.
7 points from 12 in the league is very good looking at the teams involved (delighted Liverpool beat you obvs )
Shame about the cup for your selfish personal reasons but a decent summer rebuild assuming you stay up should see you give it a good go in cups next year (I'd be amazed if you could challenge for league but Leicester did it!)
Good strong signings in Austin and berahnhi - That's a lot of choice up top - who's the chosen 2?
£5m in expenses last month then (minusing the recruits) - what the feck was that on?! Wages or a decent chucnk for signing on fees? If wages - who is the biggest earners?
What is stadium capacity? around 35k?
Tom Ince - always been a greedy kent - feck him!
crikey - a LOT of players there getting paid a big wage (as I assume you are on ODB wages)
60k for a rotation player?
Is Stoke really Man City in secret??
Even with the enhanced finances that's a lot of money getting shelled out on players that aren't first teamers. Like you say definitely something to look in to rectifying in the summer.
Looks like a quiet month as just three matches are scheduled at the start of it.
Matches and Roundup
First game of the month saw us travel to The Valley to take on Charlton Athletic. This brought back lots of great memories as this was my home town club and I had a season ticket there when I was young.
They were in a similar position to us. They were above us by one point so this was an opportunity to go above them and climb the table a little further.
Monday Night Football saw us in front of the TV cameras as well and after doing the obligatory interviews for them, I made my way to the dugout. Cristian Gamboa replaced Salomonsson at right back in the only change.
Charlton had a number of aging stars in their ranks like Lukasz Fabianski (34 years old), Mikael Lustig (33) and Paulinho (31). They had added to their ranks with a player I knew well. Fredric Bulot was a great player for me at Newcastle and he had been rewarded with a £9.25m move to Charlton.
It was not going to be an easy game. Especially with our away form. We had played 13 games away from The Brit this season. We had won just one. This would need to improve if we were going to stay up.
We lost Chris Smalling to injury after just 6 minutes with Lascelles coming on as his replacement. It was not an entertaining game in the early stages but as the game stayed goalless, Charlton came out of their shell a bit and ended up taking the lead in the 32nd minute.
That woke us up a bit and straight from kick off we went into the Charlton Box where Berahino tried to centre the ball which was blocked by the hand of Joel Ekstrand. Penalty.
Aaron Cresswell strode up and placed the ball into the bottom right corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Despite a few other chances, the scoresr were not troubled again and it finished all square.
Charlton 1-1 Stoke
These were the types of games that we really needed to be winning if we were going to stay up. I didn't mind losing to teams in the top 4, top 5, top 6 even. But its always been said that you have to take your points against the teams in and around you so for that reason, I guess a point is not that bad.
In the days after the Charlton game, we paid Leeds an amount of £825,000 as an incentive payment for David Ospina as he had now paid 20 league games for Stoke. That now took his total transfer fee to over £10m. He had not justified that before my arrival but was starting to get back to some kind of form. We had a week off so we sat back and watched our next opponents, Sheff Wed, play in the quarter final of the FA Cup.
I could barely recognise the side that I had left in April 2018. A lot of my players had been moved on and a lot had come in. They were still a decent side though but were just 10th in the Premier League. But, they were undone by two quick fire goals by their opponents Crystal Palace just before half time. They did pull one back in the second half but after Palace scored again it was game over and they were out of the cup.
I hoped that this would play into our hands. I hoped that they would still be down after their exit when they arrived at The Brit for another dose of Monday Night Football. A win for us would take us within 2 points of the visitors but more importantly it would take us 7 clear of the drop zone with 8 games to play.
Tom Ince had picked up an injury to his shoulder so would miss the game. He was replaced by young Ryan Freeman with new signing Josh Scowen finally making a match day squad by getting on the bench.
Chris Smalling was not fully fit so he was replaced by Jamaal Lascelles.
We started well and were very much on top. We were controlling the game and we made sure we had some advantage at the end of the good spell as Charlie Austin smashed his first two goals for the club as we took a half time lead. He completed the hat trick minutes into the second half.
The second period continued to give us the things we wanted as although Wednesday pulled one back, Saido Berahino then scored his first for the club before Scowen, who had come on for Onyedinma, scored on his debut. A huge win. One that aided the goal difference and brought that back to just -1. It could not have gone better.
Stoke 5-1 Sheff Wed
And after that, another 14 day break before the next match. International friendlies came and went and once again we found ourselves gracing Monday Night Football but this time an away game against West Ham. The night before I had enjoyed watching my former employers Newcastle winning the League Cup at Wembley. Alan Pardew had done well in that respect but he was very much under the kosh in the league with his side down in 9th in the second tier.
West Ham were another team near us as they were just above us in the table and two points ahead of us.
We had been in good form but I was fully aware that we were playing away from home where we were notoriously poor so I was not going into it thinking we were going to walk it.
The team was unchanged and I dropped a third midfielder from the bench to accommodate Andy Hopkins and put two forwards on the bench. This was in case we were behind in the game and needed to throw extra forwards on.
We started brightly and took the lead through Berahino after just 6 minutes and we doubled the lead on 12 minutes when Ryan Freeman followed in a blocked shot for his first ever career goal.
When Berahino scored his second on 50 minutes, we were in dream land and I relaxed into the rest of the game as I knew we had now managed to pick up three points on the road.
West Ham 0-3 Stoke
A very short month with just the three games.
This was not going to be the month that ran me a big profit, in fact it didn't run me a profit at all. In fact, it was a hefty loss. Income was just £2.03m and expenditure way up at £6.06m. A £4.03m loss.This dropped the balance drastically to just £1.8m. Transfer budget of £1.3m.
Just the Sheff Wed match at home. The attendance was 34267. That is not the issue though. The big outlay is on wages. This will need to be addressed at seasons end.
Very good month and could maybe go as far as 9th but the fact is you must now be safe and concentrate on who will stay and who will go in these last few games
Expenditure is crazy - you'll be in debt next month!
Decent month, finances just shows that wages are eating up the cash!