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The curious case of Alex Neil and StokCity


The curious case of Alex Neil and Stoke Citys miserable home form

The curious case of Alex Neil and Stoke City

The curious case of Alex Neil and Stoke Citys miserable home form

This article was first published in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekdayhere.

Its fair to say it has not exactly been plain sailing for Alex Neil since taking over the Stoke City job. Cast your mind back to this time last season and the Scot was gearing up Sunderland for the final push that would ultimately take them to promotion through to the Sky Bet League One play-offs and back into the Championship.

They lost just once under the former Hamilton Academical midfielder as he transformed their fortunes. He talked then of having to banish the superiority complex at the Stadium of Light, of laying to rest the notion that they were a big club based on the memories of achievements that had long since greyed and frayed around the edges.

A couple of months later he again used the same big club phraseology as he departed Englands north east for the Potteries, claiming that Stoke was an altogether better proposition than that which he was leaving behind at Sunderland.

The season hasnt quite panned in the manner that he might otherwise have expected when he packed his bags in August, however. Neils new club thumped his old one 5-1 last Saturday, a result which might have led the half-interested observer to conclude that Stoke were having the better season of the pair.

But a look at the league table tells a different story. As it is, Sunderland sit six points above Stoke, and are positioned albeit improbably given recent their poor form for a tilt at the play-offs for a second successive season. Meanwhile the latter are lodged in 16th, likely safe enough to avoid relegation but similarly far enough away from the promotion places to suggest the 2023/24 campaign will be played out in the Championship once more.

Of particular concern has been their home form. Increasingly the answer to the pejorative question But can they [opponents] do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke is Yes, with some ease and commonly with bells on. Stoke have won just five of their 17 matches at the Bet365 Stadium this season, a state of affairs which condemns them to the joint-fourth worst record in the division.

That said, in their gutting of Sunderland they showed glimpses of what might be in store next season. Stoke this week posted financial figures indicating a profit of 102m, largely off the back of debts being written off by club owners the Coates family, who also own Bet365. Bolstered by a leaner squad and the more solid financial footing that it will place them in for the summer, Neil must be quietly thinking that his decision to spurn Sunderland, especially with the gap between the two sides now down to six points, has been the right one all along. Of course, he will only know the answer to that question when next season rolls around.

Tonight Stoke host Blackburn Rovers looking to bring a halt to their miserable home form. The goodnewsis they have beaten them once already this season a match Neil watched from the stands right before he took charge and have had the better of the head to head between the sides in recent years.

Having taken plenty of stick in the run up to last Saturdays win Neil said he was prepared to take whatever was coming to him on the chin right before Stoke went out and beat Sunderland black and blue. He will be hoping his team comes out swinging in similarfashionthis evening.

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