Behind Enemy Lines: Stoke City

MILLWALL could all but secure Championship safety this Saturday against Stoke City.

If the Lions match Rotherham’s result at West Brom their superior goal difference will be enough for survival.

Alex Grace spoke to Stoke fan Ollie Walton this week.

Twitter: olliewalton 33

Why do you support Stoke?

My dad is a Stoke fan, so was my granddad and I was born and raised in the area, so I didn’t have much choice!

What has been your favourite season following the Potters?

My favourite season has to be 2008-09, our first ever in the Premier League.

The sheer buzz around the city after we won our first home game against Aston Villa was immense. Our squad wasn’t packed with flair, but we took teams on with passion and made the then ‘Britannia Stadium’ a fortress.

We were obvious favourites to go down, and so to finish a comfortable 13th made it all the sweeter.

And the worst?

It has to be last season, the end of our 10-year stay in the top flight.

Most Stoke fans would tell you the same. Our demise had begun seasons earlier, but going into the season with so many failed, uninspiring signings had left many Stoke fans actually anticipating the thought of the drop.

The sacking of Mark Hughes was needed, but by then it was clear we were in knee deep and Paul Lambert had little chance of saving us from our eventual relegation.

What have you made of Stoke’s 2018-19 campaign? 

It’s been one hell of a ride! It was clear by September that we were miles off contenders for the top six, despite going into the season as favourites for the title.

There have been numerous highs – beating Leeds and Derby at home as well as the breakthrough of numerous youth prospects – as well as lows – losing 3-0 at home to Wigan and drawing four consecutive games 0-0.

But since Nathan Jones came in there has been an air of optimism around the club, and a hope that next season will be much more successful.

Where do Stoke need to strengthen in the summer transfer window?

Despite having a brilliant team on paper, there are many areas we need to strengthen in the summer.

With the impending departure of Jack Butland to the Premier League, a goalkeeper will no doubt be on Jones’ agenda.

A left-back will definitely be brought in. Erik Pieters returns from his loan spell at Amiens in France and it remains to be seen whether Jones sees him as a viable option.

Finally, a striker. Sam Vokes is yet to fully make his mark and Benik Afobe has frankly looked half the player he was for Wolves in this league. There’s a reason we are the third lowest scorers overall this season.

Gary Rowett was replaced by Nathen Jones in January – was that the right decision?

Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt.

Rowett had completely failed to deliver on his promises and had lost the fans after a series of digs in press conferences about how he felt he was being treated by us.

The timing was right and had we held on to Rowett any longer, we may have been looking at this weekend’s game as a relegation six-pointer.

Jones has done and said all the right things since he came in and most fans are quietly confident about our chances next season under his guidance.

Millwall missed a host of chances against Stoke earlier this season

Do you fear losing your best players this summer?

Not particularly, players are always coming and going and hopefully they will be replaced accordingly.

The loss of Jack Butland will be the biggest by far, and rightly so. He is a brilliant keeper and if not for him we would not have such a great defensive record for a bottom-half side. He definitely deserves another crack at the Premier League, and if it brings us £20million-plus then I’m content to see him leave.

Joe Allen is the other relatively ‘big’ name in our squad that will likely be gone in the summer. Contrary to popular belief, Allen isn’t rated by many Stoke fans at all, due to his nature of simply running around a lot, and not offering much else. If he can also command a sizeable fee, I would be more than glad to see him go.

Who are Stoke’s danger men likely to be at The Den?

Danger men? We are severely lacking there!

On current form I’d suggest Peter Etebo is worth paying attention to. He has cemented his place in the heart of midfield and his tackling and drive to get the team up the pitch have improved us tremendously. He is a massive fans’ favourite.

Other than that, Tom Ince always has that spark in him and can change the game with the flick of a switch, just a shame we see this every one in 10 games, or he’d be playing regularly in the Premier League.

Likewise, which Millwall players do you fear?

Lee Gregory is always a name that sticks out in any mind when you mention the Millwall of recent years. If he is fit and raring, stopping him should be the first port of call.

What are your thoughts on Millwall boss Neil Harris?

Harris is obviously a Millwall man through-and-through, and from an outsider’s perspective it’s clear the great things he’s done for you such as getting you back to the Championship mean a lot to him.

Any fan would love a club legend to do well in the hot seat.

If you could sign one of his players who would it be and why?

While Stoke probably aren’t in the market for many Millwall players, I’d definitely take Ben Thompson. We need some new creative flair and he would definitely bring that to any team.

What is your predicted Stoke starting line-up and formation?

They have been getting harder to predict every week as Nathan Jones tinkers with his squad to fully understand what and who he needs for next season.

I’ll predict a 4-3-3:

Butland; Edwards, Shawcross, Williams, Martins Indi; Allen, Etebo, Clucas; Ince, Vokes, McClean.

(I could be completely wrong!)

Will you be at the game on Saturday?

No, unfortunately I won’t be at the game.

Finally, a score prediction?

I’ll go for an optimistic 1-0 to Stoke, but knowing us it could be anything.

It depends on if either team are up for it or not – and I’m sure your lads will be!

Graphic: @jay_taylor18