Pretty traumatic one way or another. There has been a change of manager and a brief change in fortunes, but having suffered their 15th defeat of the season against Middlesbrough, shortly before I’m speaking, the sad truth is that Stoke head into the new year as bona fide relegation candidates.
During that time, Michael O’Neill was appointed as manager after Nathan Jones’ sacking at the beginning of November. How have things changed since he arrived?
His initial impact was hugely favourable as he switched to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, after Jones had played a midfield diamond, played players in their best position and declined to chop and change his team for the first handful of games. They won his first game at Barnsley and followed up with a late home win over Wigan, so we thought he was about to work the oracle, but sadly since, reality has bitten hard again and points have once again become hugely difficult to come by.
With half the season gone and the prospect of relegation still on the cards, is it fair to say the FA Cup isn’t much of a priority this season?
Sadly, true. It might be a welcome diversion with relatively little pressure compared to league games, but the last thing a fragile Stoke dressing room needs is a heavy beating at Griffin Park. It's a poor tie for Stoke with little to recommend it given the season they're having.
If the season were to end today, who would you name as your Player of the Year?
I wish it would end today! There's no outstanding candidate, no deserving cause in truth, so give it to Ryan Shawcross as some recompense for his long-term injury. He suffered a broken leg in pre-season and made his return when he started the league game against Luton in early December, though he limped off after less than 20 minutes.
You are speaking a fair few days in advance of the clash, but how are Stoke likely to set up? Will O’Neill field a full-strength side?
It’s very difficult to comment on the exact personnel O’Neill will use at Griffin Park, but he has a huge squad at his disposal and might use the game to bring in anyone needing to blow a few cobwebs away. The game might provide an opportunity for Ryan Shawcross to get some game time under his belt if it fits in with his comeback from that aforementioned injury.
What’s your score prediction?
Something has to go right for Stoke, so let's be optimistic and say another 0-0 draw, like the September meeting in west London, followed by a Stoke win in the replay.
Come and back The Bees as we begin our final Emirates FA Cup campaign at Griffin Park against The Potters. Tickets are on General Sale from £10 adults and just £5 Under-18s.
Buy online here