When the Championship restarts on Saturday, Stoke will resume in their highest position for this season (17th) after March’s 5-1 drubbing of Hull, but still only 3 points from relegation. It’s a precarious place to be!
After an appalling start to the season under Nathan Jones – 14 games, 10 defeats – Stoke have clawed their way out of the bottom-3 with 10 wins in 22 games thanks to Michael O’Neill (MON).
But which players should MON entrust for the crucial last 9 behind-closed-doors games of the season?
Well, they say stats don’t lie, so which players have delivered more points-per-game this season?
Well, top of the tree are young rookie striker Tyrese Campbell and experienced midfielder Nick Powell. Both have averaged for Stoke 1.7 points for each league game they’ve played this season.
(Tyrese after scoring 2 as Stoke beat Huddersfield 5-2)
What may have helped their scores was that they barely featured during Nathan’s disastrous 14 league games. More fool him, though, as despite Tyrese only starting 3 times for Jones (this season), Stoke won 2 of those! They were Nathan’s only league wins!
So, who else has been bringing-home-the-bacon for City? Well, Mr Crazy-eyes, Bruno Martins Indi, is statistically Stoke’s best defender with 1.4 points-per-game, picking up slightly better figures playing left-back than in the centre.
Another defender with a decent score is Danny Batth (1.2), which may seem low but he has played in almost all of Stoke’s games. James Chester seems a good partner for Batth with 1.7, but that figure is ambiguous as Chester has only played 6 games since arriving in the January window.
Right-back position is well covered with either Tom Edwards or Tommy Smith, who both achieved 1.3 points-per-game. Intriguingly, Edwards carved his points out in the tougher first half of the season, but MON will probably play safe & stick with Smith.
Less impressive are Liam Lindsay (0.89 points-per-game) and left-back Stephen Ward (0.93). But if you think those scores are low, consider loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers, who only managed a woeful 0.6! Unbelievably, he won man-of-the-match for the Fulham game, when most people barely spotted he was on the pitch! Thankfully, he’s now back working for Nathan at Luton. Well, that’s kudos.
Fans have been rightly impressed with Nick Powell (1.7 points-per-game), & frankly unimpressed with Tom Ince, who (it won’t be any surprise) has only managed 1.0 points-per-game. But worse for Tom is the fact that although James McClean has achieved a slightly better 1.1 points-per-game (with nearly the same number of games), the Irishman’s contribution in goals & assists (see below) dwarfs Ince’s contribution.
The same can be said for Sam Clucas (1.1) and Joe Allen (1.2), who have played almost all this season’s games. They also both leave Ince far behind when it comes to goals & assists, with Ince so off-target that fans can’t be blamed for ducking as soon as he receives the ball!
Other midfielders haven’t fared so well. Ryan Wood, Ndiaye & Etebo (who have all subsequently left) had scores around 0.8 points-per-game, at a time when Edwards still managed 1.3. They looked good but achieved very little, which is probably why MON moved them on.
And the battle of the Jordans will no doubt be won by a Thompson (1.7) over Cousins (1.0), although it’s a bit early to judge as Jordan Thompson has only started 4 games so far!
Well, obviously Tyrese leads the way here (1.7), but Sam Vokes has 1.4 points-per-game, despite only 11 starts. It overshadows poor Lee Gregory (1.0) who has been a lonely figure up front, particularly under Nathan Jones.
Tyrese sinks a penalty for Stoke!
There is no doubt that Jack Butland is the man between the sticks, with 1.2 points-per-game over 30 games. Adam Federici struggled equally in the 7 games he played under Nathan, scoring only 0.86.
Points per game is all very well, but what about the crucial goals & assists? Well, it paints a similar picture.
Midfielder Sam Clucas leads with 10 goals & 1 assist, followed by Tyrese’s 7 goals & 2 assists, although SamC has played almost three times as many league games as Tyrese to achieve that!
But SamC comes out well compared to other midfielders who have played almost as many games. McClean holds his own with 6 goals & 3 assists, whilst Joe Allan has 4 goals & 2 assists.
But then there’s Nick Powell again with 4 goals & 4 assists, achieved in a fraction of the time it took his colleagues to do so.
Which leads us to poor Tom Ince, who has only managed 2 goals & 2 assists. Even defender Danny Batth can nearly match that.
Striker Sam Vokes has only started 11 league games this season, so his 4 goals & 2 assists shouldn’t sound so bad, but Lee Gregory (who started 19 games) will probably be disappointed with his 4 goals & 3 assists. However, Lee’s minutes per goal figures aren’t that much worse than Nick Powell’s.
But the star goalscorer? No, not Scott Hogan (3 goals in 426 minutes of football), but in fact the much overlooked Mame Diouf with his record-breaking one-goal-every-57 minutes with his solitary super-sub late-winner against Wigan in MON’s 2nd game. (He’d been ignored by Nathan Jones up until then!)
So, the team that the stats reckon should keep Stoke up in these last nine games (subject to fitness) is:
Bruno Martins Indi
(Reserves only: Tom Ince, Liam Lindsay, Jordan Cousins, Nathan Collins, Adam Federici, Stephen Ward)
This isn’t too different from MON’s team that flattened Hull 5-1 in Stoke’s last game. However, Ince replaced injured McClean, Thompson started over Vokes (?), & Collins was on the bench instead of Diouf.
We’ll just have to see if Michael O’Neill follows the stats.
But then – as they say – figures prove nothing!
[Points-per-game: Tyrese 1.77, NickP 1.71, Indi 1.42, SamV 1.36, TomE 1.31, TomS 1.25, DannyB 1.24, Joe 1.21, Jack 1.20, SamC 1.08, JamesMc 1.08, TomI 1.04, LeeG 1.00, Cousins 1.00, Ward 0.93, LiamL 0.89, RyanW 0.88, Etebo 0.88, Federici 0.86, Ndiaye 0.70, Carter-Vics 0.58.