Hughes: Has He Lost His Spark?

Stoke City

As the half-time whistle blew on Saturday at the Bet365 Stadium, the Stoke players trudged off to a chorus of boos.

Unimpressed with the cheap goals conceded and the manner of the performance, the home faithful let their frustration be known, piling the pressure on Mark Hughes’ reign.

Things didn’t get much better in the second half with the Potters only able to muster a consolation, as Bournemouth sat back and ran down the clock, as much the referee would allow.

The full-time whistle was greeted with the same response, as Bournemouth recorded just their second Premier League away win in 2017 – with the other coming at Sunderland back in April.

The boos were a sign of division between manager and fans proving the tide has thoroughly turned against Hughes. The Welshman looked forlorn as his side chased the equaliser, but in truth, a point would have just papered over the ever-widening cracks.

Poor Form

It’s now just one win in seven Premier League games for Stoke and in five of those games, the Potters have conceded two or more goals.

That leaves them with the worst defensive record in the top-flight having already shipped 20 goals and that’s despite the signings of Kevin Wimmer, Bruno Martins Indi and Kurt Zouma, on loan.

Towards the end of last season, there were questions regarding Hughes’ future and whether he’d gone as far as he could with the club.

Now the supporters look to want change with the Potteries club languishing in 17th place and their record this calendar year looks bleak:

Stoke’s 2017 Premier League Record: P28, W8, D7, L3 – F29, A44

Just 31 points achieved from a possible 84 with three of those wins coming against sides that ultimately dropped out of the top-flight.

The above record also fails to touch upon the disappointing cup exits that include Hull City (last season) and Bristol City in the League Cup, plus the FA Cup Third Round defeat at the hands of Championship Wolves.

Formation/Transfer Windows

The 53-year-old persevered with three at the back during pre-season and continued that into the season despite failing to sign an actual wing-back.

Instead, he had left those duties to Mame Biram Diouf and Erik Pieters but it has turned out that striker Diouf is the solution to the lack of goals, having netted three in the top-flight so far.

So, having failed to spend money in areas where it was needed, you have to question the recruitment policy in operation and where Hughes has actually spent.

In summer, £7 million went on the permanent deal of Bruno Martins Indi, who was a bright light in a dull 2016-17 campaign and then there was the £18 million spent on Kevin Wimmer, who has looked shaky so far in his new surroundings.

But looking further back you see the £12.5 million splashed out for Saido Berahino, whose last Premier League goal came in February 2016, yet the former West Brom man was given game time from his signing to the end of last season to get fit – but he has only had two starts this campaign. How’s that for a show of confidence?

Earlier in his reign, he paid £7 million for Joselu, who never got a fair crack of the whip despite scoring four goals in 26 games yet 17 of those appearances came in cameo roles off the bench. Plus there is the £18 million spent on Giannelli Imbula, who showed glimpses but never got more than a four-game run of starts.

All managers get the odd transfer wrong but it looks fair to say Hughes has squandered a fair amount of money but despite spending it he doesn’t help himself by continuously putting square pegs in round holes with a formation that clearly isn’t getting the necessary results.

Patience or Panic?

Peter Coates has always been one to give his managers time but if results and performances fail to improve then Hughes could be heading for the exit door before the international break.

Yet as it stands, the chairman is likely to point to a tough start to the campaign with the Potters having played eight of last season’s top 10, plus a newly-promoted side on their own patch.

However, it’s been the lacklustre manner of defeats that has left a sour taste with a number of supporters and that was compounded by what they saw at the weekend.

On Saturday it looked as if Hughes was puzzled on the touchline, searching for ideas, while his players looked to lack the passion or sharpness as their opponents with nobody stepping up to take responsibility.

Stoke have become an easy side to face with the lack of pressure on the ball plus crunching tackles. That once again shone through with the amount of time and space on the ball Bournemouth players were allowed in the opening stages, in which time they inflicted their damage.

Whether that’s what Sparky is instructing his players to do or he’s trying to banish the lingering stereotype then it’s clearly not working.

Things to need change but defeat at Watford would make it three losses in a row and the supporters will vent their frustrations ahead of the Midlands derby against Leicester in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

With the problems mounting, Hughes looks to be at the point of no return.

Replacements

Now let’s be realistic here!

The likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel are out of work but are waiting for those big jobs to become available.

There are managers currently out of work that fit the ‘Coates mold’. The best example of that would be David Moyes, who’s looking to rebuild his reputation but with a stable side and fresh ideas he could carry the Potters away from danger.

Claude Puel hasn’t picked up a job since his dismissal from Southampton, which from an outsiders point of view looked harsh for a number of reasons. Firstly the club had sold Graziano Pelle and Saido Mane who weren’t replaced. Then he had the side in Europe to balance with domestic fixtures plus he guided them to a League Cup Final – something not to be sniffed at!

There are the managers in work at club level like Chris Wilder, who might be worth taking a punt on given what he’s achieved at Sheffield United, but it might take something to pry him away from his boyhood club.

While there are the international managers like Chris Coleman and Michael O’Neill, who have both worked wonders, and they might fancy chancing their arm back at club level.

But given the past criteria for selecting managers then Moyes would look to be a front-runner if Hughes was given the boot.

About the Author

Matt Kirby
I'm Matthew, a freelance journalist specialising in football and horse racing.