How Nathan Jones can kickstart Stoke City season
Background Image: Ronnie Macdonald, CC-BY -2.0
Nathan Jones is a man under immense pressure. The Stoke City boss' payback victory over Leeds United on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup only temporarily soaked the tension. Bottom of the Championship, the Potters are winless after five matches. A drastic upturn is needed, else their manager will be consumed.
Appointing Jones as Gary Rowett's successor in January was a shift from Stoke's recent history, pedigree and notoriety. It was a gamble worth taking, though, owing to the dogs of who went before. Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Rowett left their roles in the space of little more than a year.
Jones arrived with a burgeoning reputation. He transformed Luton Town fortunes in barely three years at the helm. From scrambling around League Two's fringes, the Welshman secured second place, departing Bedfordshire with the club on course for another promotion.
Jones swiftly got Potters fans on his side with a free-flowing playing style. Despite picking up only three victories and finishing 16th, two spots worse than he inherited, there was optimism he'd get it right this season.
That's proving far from the case. Jones is fighting to keep his job. The 46-year-old's attractive brand isn't producing results, making him not any different from his predecessors. He must grind out wins, quickly. First, there are a few underlying issues to sort.
Rediscover his mojo
Jones epitomises positive football. He utilises a quick-passing, possession-based style. In 2017/18, Luton racked up high-scoring victories to hit almost 100 goals. Last term, they failed to win in their opening four games but went on to suffer only three defeats (in 90 minutes) from 30 matches through to his departure.
The sooner Jones rediscovers his touch, the better. Out of desperation for a winning formula, he's turned to tinkering with Stoke's starting line-up each game. He even ditched his much-vaunted geometric midfield. Potters players are more conservative rather than push aggressively in a high-press.
Solve Shawcross debacle
Amidst Stoke's poor run, there has been a little progress. They've enjoyed the majority of possession in all six league and cup games. Taking aim at goal almost 80 times, the Potters have buried five those shots to better seven Championship sides for goals scored, including tenth-placed Millwall.
The difference is at the back. Millwall have conceded six times to Stoke's 13. That's the division's worst record. With a rejuvenated Ryan Shawcross available, the story may have been different.
The skipper suffered a broken fibula during a pre-season friendly at home to Leicester City. In his absence, Jones has alternated between Liam Lindsay, Daniel Batth and youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers who's on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Bruno Martins Indi gave a good account on his first appearance against Leeds. This gives a positive selection headache.
Before returning to the Potters' starting line-up away at Leeds, Jack Butland came under fire in the opening games for sloppy errors which led to goals. The Englishman conceded a staggering 83% of shots faced, making one solitary save.
Butland put up another mishap in what is becoming a trademark for him. He was culpable for Leeds' second goal when cannoning a clearance off his own defender, allowing Eddie Nketiah to gain possession, round him and finish into an empty net.
Butland's recent blunder is his fourth in only five appearances. Until he finds peak form, Jones must put faith in Adam Federici.