Stoke City manager Alex Neil revealed his frustration as his side fell to a third successive defeat, leaving them just two places above the Championship drop zone.
The Potters lost seven of their opening 11 games at the beginning of the campaign but looked to have turned a corner in October when the 2-1 win over Sunderland kicked off a run of five unbeaten. Aside from the Black Cats, the Staffordshire side earned impressive wins against Leeds United and Middlesbrough, whilst two successive 0-0 draws against Cardiff City and Coventry City brought about four successive clean sheets.
The tides rapidly turned again though, and yesterday’s 2-1 defeat against Plymouth Argyle saw the former Premier League team slip to 21st in the table and followed losses against Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers.
Neil has found himself under increasing pressure as a result and next Saturday’s clash with relegation-threatened Sheffield Wednesday could prove pivotal. However, the Owls look revitalised as of late having held champions-elect Leicester City in the week before a huge victory over Blackburn Rovers yesterday.
The supporters who had made the long journey to the South West yesterday made their feelings known at full time, with a 97th minute winner from Adam Randell securing the home side all three points. The former Sunderland boss sympathised though and could understand their frustration. Via Stoke On Trent Live, the 42-year-old said;
“I understand that there’s quite a lot of frustration because of the last three games that we’ve had. It’s not just losing games but losing in the dying moments of games. It’s the worst possible way to lose just as it’s the best possible way to win, the best feeling.
“I know there will be a lot of frustration and anger because of that and I just need to get the lads to settle and focus on the games coming up.
“If you travel all the way down here, it’s a long way, and then you lose the game in the 96th minute especially after we’ve had some really good opportunities to win the game then there’s going to be anger, there’s going to be frustration. That’s par for the course in football.”
Continuing, Neil revealed the changing room was not a happy place to be afterwards;
“They have all had a pop at each other in the changing room, we should clear the ball, we should do this, we should do that. They know what to do, they’ve been doing it for the whole game, but in those dying embers of the game, it’s making sure you make clean contact, it’s making sure you make them have to work extremely hard to get the next goal. You get inside your man, you make yourself be hard to beat.
“That’s something that, three games ago, we had. That’s the biggest frustration. It’s not as if we’ve lacked it right throughout the season. We had four clean sheets on the bounce before these last three games.
“Then in these last three games we’ve conceded goals at late parts of the game when we’ve got an opportunity to clear the ball. It’s not as if it’s a hard thing to do.”
With the busy festive schedule coming up, it is important that Stoke get it right next weekend or they could find themselves on the hunt for a new manager.
Alex Neil will be confident he can turn things around at the bet365 Stadium, but he will know that time is running out. He wouldn’t have been expecting a relegation scrap this season and neither would’ve the supporters, so the clash with Sheffield Wednesday already looks season-defining.
Stoke are a club that will feel they belong in the Premier League, and they know that they are massively underachieving. The recent five-game unbeaten run now looks a distant memory and things need to change. Quickly.