11 games into the season, Stoke sit 21st in the table, just two points above the drop zone - are questions starting to be asked about Alex Neil?
There have started to be rumblings from, what I believe to be, a small section of the fanbase so far but I think that has the potential to snowball quickly at this club.
I’d like to think most supporters are willing to give him plenty of time yet after bringing in 19 players from all four corners of the planet in the summer, as well as then losing 4 attackers since the season started with new signings Vidigal and Mmaee missing since August, Campbell out for a few months and Jacob Brown sold to Luton.
Give him a chance to get the firepower back and then go from there.
Since the end of August, Stoke have won just one of seven matches, what do you think are the key things going wrong?
As mentioned above we have lost all the goal threat from the front 3.
We’ve also lost a lot of the most exciting and/or experienced players with our only left back Enda Stevens getting a long-term injury on Ireland duty three days after we sold Josh Tymon on transfer deadline day.
Wouter Burger, Ben Wilmot, Ki Jana-Hoever have all missed numerous games meaning the task of gelling together this squad has been made even more difficult by that.
With 19 new signings made, the squad has been entirely overhauled, do you think too much has been changed too soon or is it just a case of being patient?
The latter for sure, we just need to take a breath and understand that these players are learning a new club, new teammates and for the majority a new league, country and even language.
There are some great talented players in the squad but they aren’t clicking in the final third and I firmly believe that's due to it being the area of the pitch where you can’t have hesitation, it’s the place you need to be more fluent than anywhere and I think the lack of knowledge of each other's games is leading to those minor delays that see the gap or chance disappear.
Fingers crossed that improves in line with the squad’s understanding of each other's movement etc.
Lynden Gooch joined Stoke at the end of the window, how has he performed so far and where has Alex Neil been playing him?
Well, we run Man of the Match polls after each game and he already has two of those in the bag.
In our player of the season standings, he’s 4th despite missing the start of the season and also the last couple of games with injury. He should be back for Saturday and I can see him taking his place at left back where he’s been covering for Stevens.
Effort and obvious desire to succeed have adhered him to the Stoke fans straight away.
Looking at your recruitment elsewhere, which of your signings have impressed and which have underwhelmed so far?
Mark Travers has been a much welcomed steady and competent pair of hands in goal after a few years with that being a massive problem.
Andre Vidigal hit the ground running and has scored 5 in his 4 home games so far but has just one sub appearance (which he scored in) since picking up an injury when being kicked around the park at Millwall in August.
Ben Pearson was here last season on loan but, if classed as a new signing, has been the glue that holds everything together and is a very clever and aware footballer, even if he is a walking yellow card.
Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Stoke players do you think will cause Sunderland problems?
Saed Haksabanovic has proven to be a threat when on the ball after joining from Celtic on deadline day and South Korean youngster Bae Junho improves with every cameo off the bench, surprisingly loves a battle and getting stuck in to go with some lovely ball skills we’ve seen in patches so far.
Jack Clarke has started the season in electric form, did you ever expect him to become the player he has from what you saw during his loan spell at Stoke?
He never showed anything like the ability and consistency he is doing now, but we seem to have had a lot of players one year too soon in recent times being the first loan spell for Jaden Philogene, Liam Delap and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who have all gone on to look far better options than they did for us, albeit two of the three looked ‘decent’.
Clarke struggled to get a run of games when he was here and looked a little slight and drifted in and out of games but there were definite glimmers of a real talent there.
How do you think Neil will approach the match tactically?
I think we will go 4-3-3 having been forced to abandon the back five that so many of our fans loathe due to only having one fit centre back for recent matches... I’m thinking we maybe shouldn’t have sent five U21 centre backs out on loan all at once!
I think we will look to dominate the ball and also be on the front foot both on the ball and when off the ball with a high press, must take a special type of composure as a defender to stay calm when Wesley is bearing down on you.
In the final third, I imagine the threat will mainly be the link-up between Haksabanovic and Vidigal who haven’t had any chance to play together yet.
Which eleven players do you think he will select?
If we are to believe reports that Gooch, Hoever, Vidigal and Rose are back but Mmaee, Campbell, Wilmot and Stevens are not then I reckon a 4-3-3.
Travers in goal, Tchamadeu getting the nod at right back with Gooch back in at left back. McNally and Rose at centre back with the protection of Ben Pearson in front of them and the energy of Josh Laurent and vision and composure of Wouter Burger ahead in midfield. Vidigal to take his place on the wings, alternating with Saed Haksabanovic with Wesley as the focal point in attack.
Alex Neil had the last laugh with Stoke winning 5-1 when the two sides last met, what is your score prediction for this time around?
I think it’ll be a lot less freakish in terms of the game and result but I can the returning players helping us to just shade it 2-1 to relieve a bit of pressure on the manager.