Has Stoke’s Nathan Jones experiment failed or does he deserve more time?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 22 August 2019, 12:05

“No matter the tactics, what food we eat, what bus we travel on, it doesn’t make any difference. Players have to do their jobs. We weren’t good in one box and were terrible in the other.” (quotes via Stoke Sentinel).

Nathan Jones cut a frustrated figure in the aftermath of Stoke’s latest defeat, a 3-1 loss to Preston, which extended the club’s rotten winless run to 10 Championship games - across two seasons - dating back to early April.

Since taking charge of Stoke back in January Jones has overseen only three wins from 24 league games. Last season his troops dropped to 16th, nearly 20 points adrift of the top-six, and this term the Potters have registered one point from four matches which leaves them rooted to the foot of the table.

We’ve already witnessed three managerial departures in the Football League, and Jones must now be fearing the worst.

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There’s no doubting Jones’ credentials as a manager. The work he did at former club Luton was majestic. When he decided to switch clubs at the start of the year he understandably left many Hatters fans crushed, given that Luton (2nd) looked in a decent position to win consecutive promotions - which they did.

But Jones is an ambitious man and testing himself in the Championship seemed like a logical next step. However, on some occasions it just doesn’t work out, and if judged purely on results alone at Stoke then the Welshman's record is disappointing.

Maybe Stoke’s problems run deeper. Neither of Jones’ predecessors, Paul Lambert and Gary Rowett, could inspire a turnaround. Lambert won only two of his 15 games at the helm, and Stoke were relegated under his watch. The Scot’s replacement, Rowett, was then sacked in January (2019) after less than eight months in charge.

Prior to that duo Mark Hughes, who had previously led Stoke to three straight 9th place finishes in the Premier League, was axed in early 2018 after a run of nine points from 12 matches.

"Since I’ve come here there’s been a hangover of players wanting to leave, players thinking they are proper players, players wanting to go and play in Europe, players thinking of their international careers,” Jones told Stoke Sentinel after Wednesday’s defeat to Preston.

"There hasn’t been a group here together who wants to play and focus and win games for Stoke City, that’s a problem. I thought we made big strides in that, but evidently we haven’t.”

Jones, who also mentioned how neither his Plan A or B is working, appears to be feeling the heat, which is a concern. 10 league goals have been leaked in already - there have been some costly high-profile errors - while Nick Powell’s injury on the opening day has been a big blow.

Stoke fans have a right to be frustrated, before the season got underway Jones had targeted promotion. But after four games his troops are already looking up at all of the other 23 Championship teams, while things could soon get worse as they face Marcelo Beilsa’s table-topping Leeds back-to-back in the league then cup.

On a more positive note results can at times be deceiving.

Stoke have enjoyed the majority of possession in each of their five league and cup games, and in the process fired in a gargantuan 77 shots.

However, accuracy and ruthlessness has clearly been the problem with just six of those 77 efforts resulting in a goal (just 17 were on target).

So with this in mind, maybe it’s only a few small tweaks that need to be made. It’s important to remember that the season only began a few weeks ago, and you feel Jones therefore does deserve more time.

His Luton side failed to win any of their opening four games last season - losing three - but they went on to suffer only three defeats (in 90 minutes) from their following 30 matches through to his departure.

Would making a fourth managerial change in just over 18 months make a difference? Perhaps. But one thing is for certain, Jones needs to figure out a way of changing the negative and seemingly fragile mindset of a certain contingent of the players in his squad, as at the moment a handful appear void of confidence and prone to costly errors.

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Russ Wilcox
(Scunthorpe United)
7th August
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