Stoke City: 'More wins, fewer draws', pleads frustrated chairman Peter Coates
Just like his counterparts at most Championship clubs, Stoke City chairman Peter Coates will be no more than an envious admirer when Aston Villa and Derby County slug it out for the final ticket back on the Premier League gravy train at Wembley on Monday.
When the Championship season began in August, 297 days before Monday's grand finale, newly-relegated Stoke, under new manager Gary Rowett, were the bookmakers' pre-season favourites to go straight back up.
But it did not quite work out that way.
It was Norwich City who travelled first-class, with Sheffield United in second, and now Derby and Villa attempting to derail each other in Monday's far-from-cheap day excursion Wembley special.
By contrast, the Potters won just 11 of their 46 games to finish 39 points adrift of champions Norwich, and 34 behind the second-placed Blades.
"It didn't go as we hoped," admitted Coates. "We had expectations of at least being in the top six. It was a reasonable thing to think we could achieve. And we will still be targeting that same position. But it was a bit of a learning curve, not that we didn't think it wouldn't be tough."
Stoke only lost 13 games, a record not bettered outside the top six, but it was their draws that killed the Potters. All 22 of them.
So Coates' wish for 2019-20 is quite simple: "We've got to win more games."
The draw kings
"That's pretty basic," 81-year-old Potters owner Coates told BBC Radio Stoke. "But it's fundamental to winning promotion.
"We drew too many games this season. Many of them we should have won but we kept messing up here and there."
Those 22 draws were capped by the end-of-season run in which they drew all their final five home games at the Bet365 Stadium.
The first two, the second half of an eye-closing, rather than eye-catching, run of four successive goalless stalemates, were back-to-back 0-0 draws with Reading and Sheffield Wednesday.
There was then one more home disappointment to follow, a 2-2 draw with about-to-be relegated Rotherham, before the morale boost of seeing what Stoke might be capable of next season in two more 2-2 draws, with the top two.
"We played the best two teams in the division in the last two games and could have won them both," said Coates.
So where did it all go wrong?
The other bizarre statistic was the amount of managers Stoke got through - two.
It might not seem much compared to some more trigger-happy clubs but, in terms of Coates' watch in the Potteries, it is a lot.
Since he completed the purchase of the club in 2006, until Stoke's final season in the top flight, he had only ever had two managers - Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes.
And, until Hughes' dismissal in January 2018, he had never made a mid-season managerial change. Now it has happened for a second successive season.
It was just two days on from the one-year anniversary of Hughes' exit that Stoke dismissed Rowett.
Coming on top of the short-term appointment of Paul Lambert to succeed Hughes, it left Jones as their fourth manager in little more than 12 months.
"Everybody in football told us that Gary seemed the perfect choice and that he'd do well," said Coates. "But it didn't work out.
"We've now gone for a different type in Nathan, a change of direction. We were very impressed with what he achieved at Luton and thought it was a good way to go.
"We're pleased with what we've seen. We know a lot more than we did before, so we should be better prepared. We have a better idea of what's needed.
"Nathan wants his squad together by the time they report back and we shall do our best, but we can't guarantee anything."
Jones keen to trim Stoke squad
As ever, in any transfer window and for any football club, there are transfer rumours.
Millwall striker Lee Gregory, who has already announced his departure from The Den, Wigan forward Nick Powell, who started his career just up the road at Crewe, and Barnsley's Wales international goalkeeper Adam Davies are reported by BBC Radio Stoke to be the Potters' top three targets.
But, first and foremost, Jones is looking to move players on, having said that he wants to work with a smaller group of players - and Coates says they are already working on trimming the size of the squad.
"Everybody has to be managed and some managers do like smaller squads," said Coates.
"If you're not in the team you can be a source of malcontent, aggravation, call it what you want. These things happen. Everybody wants to play.
"You can have too many in your squad. And we'll be trying to bring it down. But it's easier to bring them in than get them out.
"Two players for each position is logical enough. And we've got some good young players coming through who we expect to be part of the squad and we're delighted about that."
Who might go?
Jack Butland: The odd question mark has arisen over the England keeper's consistency in his first season for Stoke outside the Premier League. But he let in just 20 goals in 19 games from New Year's Day onwards - and, having been picked in Gareth Southgate's squad for the Nations League finals, he has already been linked with a quick return to the top flight, just as he was a year ago.
Coates says: "I've got a very good relationship with Jack. This season he's started to come back to form and it's good news that he's in the England squad. There's always that possibility. That's the nature of the game. You deal with them as they come along. You respond to what happens. It's whatever's in the best interests of the club. That's all we can do. What will be will be."
Saido Berahino: Early-season suggestions that the former West Bromwich Albion striker might make a player after all, following his first goal in two and a half years, quickly evaporated. He made just two appearances (and one start) once Jones had taken charge, while earlier this month he was convicted of drinking and driving for a second time, fined £75,000 and banned from driving for 30 months.
Coates says: "Saido has got himself into a mess which is no help to him or the football club. We'll see what happens after the court hearing."
Tom Edwards: Ask almost anyone in Stoke about the main plus point to take from the 2018-19 season - and they will single out the locally-born England Under-20 full-back. He capped his 29th appearance of the campaign with his first goal for the club in the Potters' penultimate home game, the equaliser against eventual champions Norwich, only to come off injured and then miss their final two matches. He has naturally won admirers from further afield, and Coates is quite realistic about the fuss.
Coates says: "Getting young players is an enormous help to balancing the cost of your club. That always has to be a consideration. I have no problem with our players playing well and being admired by other clubs. I'd be delighted if Pep Guardiola phoned up and said he'd like Tom Edwards. The better they are, the better it is for us all."
Potters in numbers (in 2018-19)
Games played: 46
Goals scored: 45
Top league scorers: Benik Afobe 9 (2 pens), Joe Allen 6, Tom Ince 6
Clean sheets: Jack Butland 18
Average home attendance: 25,200 (down 4,080 from 2017-18 Premier League season)
Peter Coates was talking to BBC Radio Stoke's Matt Sandoz