Millwall’s Sky Bet Championship survival bid continues this Saturday with three important remaining fixtures of 2018/19. The penultimate match of our Den campaign sees Nathan Jones bring his Stoke City side to SE16, as The Lions look to consolidate their Championship status for next term. As we prepare to take on The Potters, we take a look at their campaign so far.
Stoke City began their first season back in the Championship since 2007/08 with former Birmingham City and Derby County boss Gary Rowett at the wheel, following the club’s relegation from the Premier League alongside Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion. The Potters were among the bookies’ favourites to return to the top flight, and operated actively in the summer transfer market. Unable to retain key players Xherdan Shaqiri, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Marc Muniesa following the drop, Rowett brought in an array of Premier League and Championship experience including Tom Ince, Benik Afobe and Ashley Williams, along with Nigeria midfielder Peter Etebo. An undoubtedly strong squad trained on both home turf and in Germany over pre-season, claiming summer wins over Macclesfield and Walsall – albeit alongside four defeats and one draw as the team looked to gel.
Stoke suffered a shaky start to their first Championship campaign in 11 years, taking until their fifth attempt to secure their first victory at the end of August. Defeat to Leeds by three goals to one on the opening day was followed by back-to-back draws with Preston and Brentford, before an eye-opening 3-0 home defeat to Wigan. The Potters at least ended a frustrating month on a high, claiming their first win on the board by beating Hull 2-0 at the bet365 Stadium, and securing a place in the Third Round of the Carabao Cup with another 2-0 victory over Premier League opponents in Huddersfield Town.
September was to be another disappointing few weeks by the expectations of the Stoke supporters, with a defeat at West Brom and a draw with Sheffield Wednesday beginning the month. A 1-0 win over Swansea at the bet365 was followed by two steps back, losing 3-2 in successive games to Blackburn in the League and Nottingham Forest to bow out of the Carabao Cup. A 2-2 recovery draw at Rotherham saw Rowett’s side round off the month in 17th.
October saw fortunes begin to improve for The Potters, as many of their most talented assets began to prove their worth in Rowett’s side. Two victories started the month, firstly a 2-0 win at home to Bolton and next an impressive 1-0 success at Norwich. After a brief setback in the form of a narrow defeat at Birmingham, Rowett’s men embarked on a 10-match League unbeaten run starting with a late draw at promotion contenders Sheffield United, and a 1-0 away win at Bristol City. Stoke sat in an improved position of 13th heading into November.
Despite just one win in four fixtures, Stoke managed to break into the top half at the end of November. Successive goalless stalemates with Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest came prior to the season’s third international break – a third straight draw arriving afterwards in the form of a 2-2 scoreline against QPR at the bet365. A 2-1 win over Derby ended November on a high note, lifting the side to 12th as a busy winter approached.
December saw the side extend their unbeaten streak until Boxing Day, in a mixed month which gathered three wins, two draws and one defeat – albeit with just two of six League fixtures coming on home soil. Away draws – each 2-2 scorelines – with Reading and Aston Villa sandwiched a 2-0 home victory over Ipswich, with The Potters hosting Millwall in both sides’ final fixture before Christmas. Despite sustained Lions pressure in the latter stages, Saido Berahino’s second-half winner was enough for Rowett to claim a 1-0 win at the bet365. A first League defeat in two months – to Birmingham City who were incidentally the last team to beat The Potters – came on Boxing Day, before wrapping up 2018 with a goalless draw at Bolton.
Form was to be hard to come by following the turn of the year for Stoke, during a turbulent January. After a 2-0 New Year’s Day loss at home to Bristol City and a 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury Town in the Emirates FA Cup Third Round, Stoke parted company with Rowett after just half a season. The club were quick to appoint their replacement, Luton Town boss Nathan Jones. It was to be a baptism of fire for the Welshman as he began his reign, losing to both Brentford and Shrewsbury in a shock home Cup replay result. Jones however did claim his first win in charge against Leeds at the bet365, overcoming Marcelo Bielsa’s side 2-1. Defeat to in-form Preston finished January, with the side sat 15th – comfortably clear of the drop zone, but without hope of a potential Play-Off push.
Five League fixtures in February were unable to see Stoke double up on their first win under Jones, starting the month with successive defeats to Hull and promotion hopefuls West Brom. A stalemate with Wigan followed, before back-to-back 1-1 draws with basement team Ipswich and Dean Smith’s vastly improving Aston Villa. Stoke were now in 17th as March got underway.
The second win of The Potters’ spell under Jones gave fans the ideal opening to March, as the club took on Nottingham Forest at the bet365 and ran out 2-0 winners. Incredibly, whilst the team did not concede throughout the entire month, they also had severe problems finding the net and played out no less than four successive 0-0 draws across the following three weeks. Away stalemates at QPR and Derby preceded home blanks with Reading and Sheffield Wednesday – with The Potters 14th heading into the current month.
Stoke have so far played five League matches in April in a demanding climax to the season. Starting the month with a 1-0 victory at Blackburn, more frustration arose for Jones’ side with defeats on their travels at Swansea and Middlesbrough. Between the two away losses came a 2-2 home draw with relegation-threatened Rotherham, who battled back from a two-goal deficit at the bet365. Another 2-2 home draw resulted from The Potters’ last outing, albeit this time to title-chasing Norwich on Easter Monday. Stoke sit with 53 points heading into their final two games, in 16th place and already with one eye on a huge rebuilding job for next season’s challenge to push for the Premier League once again.