On 30th May 2013, the Coates family made a bold decision to appoint Mark Hughes as Stoke City manager.
It split the fans with some willing to give the Welshman a chance, but the majority were against the appointment.
A year on, that majority is eating a big slice of humble pie. How wrong could they have been?
A ninth place finish and 50 points, two club records, which has earned Hughes the admiration of the Stoke faithful. Not just for breaking the records, but by changing the style and philosophy to a more entertaining brand of football.
Hughes was much maligned for his spending at Queens Park Rangers, however he didn’t spend much after taking over the reigns. He added Erik Pieters for £3M and Marko Arnautovic for £2M before entering the loan market for Oussama Assaidi from Liverpool plus the free transfers of Marc Muniesa and Stephen Ireland (after initial loan).
After a sluggish start to the season picking up only 13 points in 13 games by the end of November, sitting in 16th place, many Potters fans nervous about the immediate threat of relegation, thinking whether Hughes was the right appointment.
December’s highlight was a 3-2 victory to Chelsea, where Assaidi scored a last minute screamer, in a game that the visitors should have had won by half time. This was the only ray of light in the month, with a disappointing Christmas and New Year following.
By the end of January Stoke were still sat in 16th only 22 points, three clear of the drop-zone.
Hughes was always adamant from day one that the second half of the season would be Stoke’s strongest.
The January transfer window opened and Stoke managed to swap the lazy Kenwyne Jones, a player I couldn’t keep defending (something he rarely did) with Cardiff’s Peter Odemwingie. There was an instant impact and Odemwingie seemed to forge a partnership with Crouch and Arnautovic that gave Stoke added a purpose, pace and intent in attack.
Then a corner was turned at the start of February. Adam thundering home a winner against Manchester United, draws against Southampton and Swansea and an unlucky 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, who ended up winning the league.
March was the Potters best month; five games unbeaten, four wins and a draw. The most impressive was a comprehensive 4-1 victory away to Aston Villa, despite falling behind in the early stages. The fans could see why Hughes was appointed; attacking football with flair and creativity, something that the previous regime lacked.
The season ended with back-to-back wins at home to Fulham then away to West Brom. A run in which the fans will be hoping to carry into the start of the 2014/15 season.
The fans are enjoying this better brand of football and have fallen in love with the new found attacking intent, especially with Marko Arnautovic for his flair, creativity and character. He has recently stated he is happy at Stoke and his future lies at the club.
Overall, Stoke’s passing accuracy is up 7% from 71% under Pulis (the worst in the league) to 78% under Hughes plus Stoke average more possession per game (47% up from 42%.) These minor changes allow Stoke to build a platform in a game rather than dropping deep allowing opponents possession.
In the attacking third, the Potters scored 45 goals from 327 chances compared to just 34 goals in 282 in the 2012/13 season, which is an improved chance conversion rate from 12% (2012/13) to just under 14% this season.
Stoke scored the fewest headed goals at just 2, with 64% of goals coming from open play (changing the stereotype). This extra attacking intent has come at a cost to them by conceding 7 more goals than they did under Pulis.
Mark Hughes has already started to improve the squad for next season, he has added Phil Bardsley to the squad on a free transfer from Sunderland, whilst Mame Biram Diouf should be confirmed in the coming weeks according to chairman Peter Coates.