Mark Hughes' rotation policy is backfiring badly at struggling Stoke

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 02 January 2018, 08:46

STOKE CITY will play a weakened team this Saturday - it’s called Coventry.

Assuming Stoke manager Mark Hughes remains in his post for the FA Cup third round trip across the Midlands there is little to suggest he will abandon the controversial squad rotation system that has left him under extra pressure.

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Coventry City are in League Two. Just over 31 years ago they won the FA Cup with one of the most heroic performances in the tournament’s history by beating Tottenham.

Since then they have slipped away into the bowels of English football but this weekend at their despised Ricoh Arena they will get the chance to scalp an ailing Premier League team.

Whether Stoke turn up with a squad that looks remotely like a Premier League team, is going to be the subject of huge debate throughout the coming days.

Seven changes for the Boxing Day thrashing at Chelsea, followed by a home defeat against Newcastle with a much restored line-up.

Hughes’ policy of selecting which matches to lose is backfiring badly because he is losing them all at the moment.

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If he sticks to his gameplan and like many other Premier League managers emerging from the gruelling Festive fixtures, he makes another raft of changes against Coventry it tips the balance in favour of a giantkilling and more misery for Stoke fans.

And having rested his ‘best’ - we say that loosely at the moment - players away at Chelsea, what’s to say he won’t do the same for the following game which is a daunting trip to Manchester United.

Now it’s all stacking up horrendously for Hughes, an undignified FA Cup exit at a team three divisions below his own followed by a defeat at Old Trafford.

Stoke will be out of the Cup and sucked firmly into the relegation zone by mid-January - that is just two weeks off.

If he thought the fans were restless yesterday then it has every chance of getting a whole lot worse if, like some single-minded and deranged World War One general, he refuses to abandon his tactics.

There’s a gap in games coming up after this weekend. Surely it would make sense for Stoke to put out their best team possible at Coventry in what could be a reasonably feisty Midlands derby of sorts?

With a feeble League Two team there for the taking, scoring a few goals, advancing into the fourth round of a competition that the fans still cherish even if managers don’t, would play a huge role in restoring even a little bit of morale.

Sacrificing the cups is a dangerous game. West Ham’s relatively new manager David Moyes has become a recent victim of that.

Just a few days before Christmas he gambled in the Carabao Cup quarter final at Arsenal.

More than 7,000 Hammers fans went to North London expecting to see their team take a decent shot at a cup which for them means more than just giving the stiffs a runout.

West Ham were lame that night and were sunk 1-0 by an equally disinterested Arsenal team in a drab match.

The supporters shook it off and swallowed the line that the following weekend’s Premier League home match against Newcastle was more important. They lost that as well and it made Moyes look silly.

Hughes should take note and learn from it. He has already put himself up against a wall by suggesting nobody else can do the job at Stoke.

That is just asking for the chairman to pull the trigger on a manager who has transformed Stoke in recent years with improved football and relatively impressive finishes in the league.

What Stoke need now is a confidence boost and the timing is perfect for that this weekend.

Hughes should count himself lucky if he survives long enough to be sent to Coventry and he should seize the opportunity to save his team’s and his own skin.

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