What are your expectations of Stoke this season?
They’re threefold. Firstly, a top half finish would be improvement on our last three seasons in the Championship, where we’ve finished 16th, 15th and 14th. Secondly, continuing the development of our talented bunch of young players is paramount as our older heads look to be getting closer to the exit door every season. Thirdly, I want us to have fun. We didn’t have much of it on or off the pitch last year, I think Stoke fans are due a good time now.
What have you made of Stoke’s start to the season
It’s near perfect, isn’t it? Despite only beating teams who have started their league seasons poorly, Stoke have faltered in these sorts of games in recent years. Plus, we’ve been good value for our results. We’ve been strong at the back, imperious in midfield and dangerous up front. Stoke usually don’t start seasons well, so this is a welcome surprise for us all. Long may it continue.
What are your thoughts on Michael O’Neill?
He’s not without his flaws, but he saved us from relegation when he came in almost two years ago and the Club has slowly been improving during that time. Not only is he getting results, he’s developing a squad that is sustainable over the long term and one to be excited about. He’s been assisted by Alex Aldridge in terms of recruitment, but O’Neill has a lot of credit banked at this point in time.
Who is the player to watch for Stoke?
So many players are in good form, but Jacob Brown has personified our improvement. He’s clearly been looking after himself over the Summer and has come back motivated and more technically gifted too. His pressing is relentless and his hold-up play is improving week-on-week. I’d like to see him score a couple more goals himself, but he’s a nuisance and he will allow others in the team to play their best football. One thing’s for sure, you’ll notice him.
What is your opinion on the Fulham side?
You have a remarkable squad and a manager who has seen relative success in this country. Stoke fans know that isn’t necessarily enough to expect promotion, but your start to the season suggests you won’t be making the same errors we did three years ago. Stoke were arrogant and entitled when they tried going up to the Premier League with a squad of unmotivated individuals. For your sake, you’d better hope your superstars can keep their head screwed on and their attention focussed in your pursuit for promotion.
How do you expect the game on Saturday to go?
It’s not going to make or break either of our seasons, but it’ll certainly lay down a marker if either wins. I can see both sides showing respect to each other here but I expect there to be plenty of quality on show across the pitch. I can see defensive displays outweighing the respective attacks, resulting in a relatively low-scoring game. But there’s two teams here in great form and both would love a win, it’s an exciting concept for sure.
Can you give us a score prediction?
’m gonna back Stoke here (to some degree) and say we’ll come out with a 1-1 draw. I can see Stoke grabbing a goal from a Mario Vrancic set piece and Harry Souttar is perhaps the most likely to head home. Stoke have only really conceded from lapses in concentration so far, and we haven’t gone behind once this season in League or Cup. Either way, enjoy the game and best of luck for the rest of your season (until we meet again).
Massive thanks to Ben for giving up his time to talk Stoke ahead of the game and we wish Michael O’Neill’s men the very best for the remainder of the season.