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📖 Story of their season, so far... Stoke City

Here’s how the Potters’ campaign was shaping up prior to football’s suspension

18 June 2020

More than three months have now passed since Sky Bet Championship football was last played across the country.

With all 24 teams now back in training ahead of the start of the vital run-in this weekend, the season will finish - in unprecedented circumstances.

Matches will be played without crowds for the foreseeable future in England, but the prize for the teams remains the same. Every outcome is still up for grabs in the Championship, and how the season will pan out is anyone’s guess.

With the imminent return of competitive games this weekend, we’ve taken a look at how Saturday’s opponents, Stoke City, have seen their season develop so far.

Early struggles in Staffordshire

Starting the season under former Luton Town boss, Nathan Jones, hopes were high among a Potters squad full of quality that they could create a sustained promotion push as they hoped for a quick return to the Premier League at the second attempt.

However, the start of the 2019-20 campaign got off to a sluggish start for Jones’ men - earning just two points before beating Swansea City at the start of October for their first Championship victory of the season.

PA-45251748.jpgJoe Allen looks dejected after being dismissed in the 12th minute during a 2-1 home defeat to Bristol City

They backed that up with a well-earned win at home to Fulham in their following outing, but three consecutive defeats led to Jones’ departure from the bet365 Stadium at the beginning of November, with the Potters rock bottom of the league standings with just eight points from their first 15 matches.

A new start under O’Neill

Michael O’Neill, who masterminded Northern Ireland’s journey to Euro 2016 in the international arena, was swiftly appointed to try and turn around Stoke’s fortunes for the remainder of the season, alongside his national team duties.

The former Northern Ireland international, who spent a brief spell on loan with the Royals as a player in 1998, set about the tough task in front of him and led the Potters to three wins in his first six outings as manager.

PA-48215195.jpgMichael O'Neill gives his first post-match press conference, after beating Barnsley 4-2 at Oakwell

After struggling in front of goal in the early knockings of the campaign, the goals began to flow for the Potters. O’Neill’s side put four past Barnsley, three past Luton and Sheffield Wednesday, then a five-goal demolition of Huddersfield Town on New Year’s Day saw City out of the bottom three and on the road to recovery.

Steady progress before lockdown

The Potters gradually edged away from the Championship’s bottom three by keeping their points total ticking over before the season was halted.

An impressive away win and clean sheet at title-chasing West Bromwich Albion was a marquee performance in a run that saw O’Neill’s side defeated just three times in their last 11 matches before a stop was put on the campaign.

Stoke went four matches unbeaten before the season was stopped, with their last result being their biggest win of the season so far - a 5-1 thumping of Hull City that saw braces from Nick Powell and top scorer, Sam Clucas, supplemented by a strike from the spot from Tyrese Campbell.

PA-51193061 (1).jpgNick Powell opens the scoring in the 5-1 win over Hull City - the final fixture before lockdown

The Potters will be very much hoping to pick up where they left off when they visit RG2 this weekend, as they sit 17th and hope to make the best possible finish to the season.

City boss O’Neill is currently in isolation after the Potters confirmed that he has tested positive for Covid-19 and, of course, all at Reading Football Club wish him a full and speedy recovery.

However, under the guidance of assistant manager, Billy McKinlay, Stoke’s preparations for the remainder of the campaign stepped up with two separate behind-closed-doors friendlies against near neighbours and fellow Championship outfit, Derby County at the weekend - allowing their squad to put 90 match minutes under their belts ahead of the return of league action this Saturday afternoon.

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