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Stoke City v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Focus: Stoke fan Daniel was surprised to see Alex Neil walk away from Sunderland in August!

We chatted to Stoke fan Daniel Buxton of the Every Step Along The Way Podcast ahead of today’s game to find out more about what the Potters have to offer. What can Sunderland expect from Alex Neil and his side?

Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Where can we start other than Alex Neil? Looking back to August when the rumours first emerged, what was the initial reaction from Stoke fans?

Daniel Buxton: Well, it was quite split to be honest and I myself was a bit cautious over whether it was the correct decision and direction the club should be taking at the time with the squad we had just put together over the summer.

It wasn’t helped by the fact I thought the club had pulled the trigger too early on Michael O’Neill.

His decision to leave Sunderland was controversial with supporters, particularly for his comments about not being backed in the transfer market, were you surprised to see him walk away from our project after just winning promotion?

DB: Yeah plus, and this may not go down well with Stoke fans, but to me, you’re a bigger club than ourselves with bigger potential if the club gets itself sorted and ‘all ducks lined up’ correctly.

I just wondered what he had seen going on at the Stadium of Light that made him look elsewhere after a summer of recruiting and also winning promotion.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - bet365 Stadium
Ross Stewart scored the sole goal when the two sides last met in August.
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

Moving forward to the present, I think it’s fair to see that the Neil move hasn’t quite gone to plan so far - what are the factors behind this and are some Stoke fans starting to question his future?

DB: The usual flip-flopping of management style after every appointment means we never get the new manager bounce.

We got rid of a manager who wanted to base his game and style on youth and openness and replaced him with a manager who is predominantly cautious and prefers playing players who have experience in the pro game.

As a result, it then takes them 12/18 months to sort the squad out to what they want with the attributes they require and by then the board and/or supporters have given up and the whole cycle starts again.

Danny Batth has been Sunderland’s unsung hero this season, consistently leading our defence, in hindsight how do you view the decision to replace him with 40-year-old Phil Jagielka?

DB: Due to aforementioned manager switches and letting Gary Rowett splurge away £50m+ in one summer on unusable and unsellable average Championship players, we had to let Danny go as he was one of the top earners left and we’ve been walking an FFP tightrope for 2 years now.

Jags has been great for the young lads and, amazingly, is 4th in our Player of the Season standings so far, so he still pulls his weight and for a lot less pay.

Stoke City v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship
Danny Batth made 107 appearances for Stoke, scoring six goals.
Photo by Mick Walker - CameraSport via Getty Images

Stoke were incredibly busy at the end of the transfer window, bringing in Axel Tuanzebe, Ben Pearson and Ki Jana Hoever all from the Premier League on loan - how have they performed so far?

DB: Injured, injured and injured// haha.

Tuanzebe made his first start for us in the cup in midweek and that, coupled with his three minutes as a sub a few weeks ago, has already shown us what a class act he is and so if we can keep him fit we may even get to the dizzy heights of mid-table obscurity.

Pearson was another who had been injured and is currently nursing a knock but is everything we’ve been missing in the middle of the park. Tenacity, awareness and controlled aggression has let our other midfielders feel they have the freedom to get forward and play more to their strengths.

Hoever (Henry) has been sketched from right to left wing back, full back and back again but a niggle or two has also made his Stoke career a stuttering one so far, along with the fact we have 7 loanees and can only name 5 per match day meaning he has been one to miss out a few times.

From an outside perspective, a key issue within your team has been failing to have a consistent goal scorer, with Dwight Gayle for example scoring just once season, what is the current predicament up top?

DB: Yes and that goal was a Josh Laurent shot that hit Gayle on the backside and wrong footed the keeper.

We’ve got pace, finishing and instinct from Tyrese Campbell, but the manager has only just realised that. Bar having a big man to play off, Tye is better off on the wing where he can beat a man one on one, he also gets so much unwanted stick from certain sections of the fan base for being ‘lazy’.

Jacob Brown is full of energy but has lost the knack of bundling balls into the net that he got last season, whilst our only other forwards are two 17-year-old lads who have both got minutes and attracted Premier League and European interest in recent months.

Local lad Emre Tezgel is currently out injured for a few weeks, but Nathan Lowe has made a couple of subs appearances after we rejected Newcastle’s advances in January and at 6’4 looks to have the build of a target man even at such a young age.

Both have been scoring over a goal a game for U21’s over the last 12/18 months.

Crystal Palace v Manchester United - Premier League
Amad Diallo could face fellow Manchester United teammate Axel Tuanzebe, who is on loan to Stoke until the end of this season.
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Stoke players with Tony Mowbray’s side have to be wary of?

DB: Josh Laurent and Will Smallbone have benefitted massively from the arrival of Pearson and now look to get forward and affect the game in the final third much more than before.

Also, Ben Wilmot at centre-back is probably our most consistent player this season and is way ahead in our own player-of-the-season standings.

How do you think Neil will approach the game tactically?

DB: He’ll have them fired up, try and let you have the ball and use a high press to force mistakes in your defensive areas.

Stoke City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
Jack Clarke assisted two goals in 14 games during his time on loan with Stoke in the 2021/22 season.
Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Which eleven players do you think he will select?

DB: (4-3-3) - Sarkic (GK), Sterling, Wilmot, Jagielka, Tymon, Pearson, Smallbone, Laurent, Brown, Campbell, Gayle.

Sunderland’s last home victory over Stoke came back in 2015 - what is your honest prediction of the score today?

DB: 1-1 draw, Campbell to score for Stoke!


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