Fair play to Stoke. Takes some doing to be the first team relegated when you're not even bottom...— Dream Team (@dreamteamfc) May 5, 2018
The season before last Stoke reached the League Cup semi-final and secured a third consecutive ninth-place finish. Having ended the season before with a famous 6-1 victory over Liverpool, Stoke were at the height of their Premier League prowess.
It’s been a sharp decline for the Potters since though, finally ending in relegation. So, just where did it all go wrong the side once dubbed 'Stokealona'?
Well, it’s actually been coming a long way off and the warning signs were even visible towards the end of that last successful campaign. Stoke ended the 2015/16 season with just one win in seven, conceding 18 goals in those seven games.
With the situation not properly addressed Stoke began the following season in the same manner. Stoke didn’t win for their first seven games conceding another 16 goals in the process. Despite this Stoke ended the summer transfer window with just one permanent first team addition, Joe Allen.
Mark Hughes steadied the ship a little but it took a crucial home win over Hull City on April 15 to finally steer Stoke away from trouble. A final day victory at Southampton made it two wins from the final 11 games, securing a disappointing 13th place finish.
Hughes had seemingly taken the club as far as he could with his side clearly in regression, but the board opted to back their man again in summer. Following the January signing of Saido Berahino, Hughes also recruited Jese Rodriguez, Kevin Wimmer, Darren Fletcher and Josh Tymon, who all added to a long list of spectacular failures.
While star man Marko Arnautovic was sold to immediate rivals West Ham and potential game changers from past seasons like Ibrahim Afellay and Bojan Krkic were frozen out. Significant stalwarts like Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters were moved out of the club for little remunerations, that really hurt the character of the team.
The board replaced influential talent with big money flops like Giannelli Imbula or bargain bin signings like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. The lack of ambition was already beginning to ruffle a few feathers and things would only get worse as Stoke got off to another poor start.
Stoke managed just eight points from their first nine fixtures and were on the wrong end of even more heavy scorelines. Unfavourable stats continued to stack up, as Stoke conceded four or more goals 13 times in two years and went 15 months without achieving consecutive victories.
Early cup exits to Bristol City and Coventry City rounded off what had been a disastrous campaign for the Staffordshire outfit. It wasn’t until after the FA Cup defeat in January, that Hughes was finally sacked by the club, a decision which came far too late for many.
With the club already plummeting towards the drop zone and the January transfer window already halfway complete, Stoke needed a truly influential manager to turn around the clubs fortunes. Instead, they opted for Paul Lambert, after another catalogue of errors ruled out the club’s first three choices.
Lambert got the team playing better than they had for the past 18 months but was unable to mastermind an effective attack after failing to add to his options with the little window he had left.
Stoke have only won once since Christmas as the team threw away several golden opportunities to steer themselves away from trouble. They let winning positions slip against Bournemouth, Leicester, West Ham, Burnley and Crystal Palace under Lambert.
An error-ridden sprint to the Championship included missed penalties, defensive mix-ups, open goals squandered, Jack Butland throwing the ball into his own net and on-field scuffles amongst teammates as Stoke proved completely incapable of winning a game.
Certain big money flops proved an even bigger problem with their attitudes, with several players ‘getting away with murder’ as Charlie Adam put it. A lack of any desire or discipline, failure to report for games or training, causing unrest behind the scenes and wantaway stars bad mouthing the squad all derailed any hope Stoke had, long before this weekend.
With as many as six first-team players exiled from the team in recent weeks, squad options have been left thin, resorting to washed up stars like Stephen Ireland.
The biggest pain for many fans will not be relegation but rather the fact of how avoidable the whole thing was if someone up top had taken charge of the situation.
The board is standing strong for now but heads will surely be expected to roll in summer. Particularly in the recruitment department as transfer dealings for the past three season have been a huge failure for the club.
Still, this is a team full of talent that should be capable of much more than a bottom of the table finish. Many will be expecting to move to other Premier League clubs although very few have shown actual Premier League quality this season. Management of the squad had become so lapsed under Hughes that many of the squad had just stopped caring and even become overweight.
Fans are still left pondering how the club was allowed to slide into such a state, the board has to rectify their bad judgement in summer with a comprehensive plan for a prompt return to the top flight because at the moment, the future does not look bright for Stoke City.