Pundit Lee Hendrie believes Stoke City will be ‘there or thereabouts’ at the end of the 2021/22 Championship season with a striker who can score ten or more goals for the Potters this term, speaking on the Sky Sports EFL Podcast.
This campaign from Michael O’Neill’s side has been a vast improvement on the last three years, not just because of their results but also because they have a set formation and clearly defined style of play.
But focusing more on the former, they have gone unbeaten in nine of their 11 league games so far this season, winning a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion last Friday evening and going into the international break on a high.
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Currently, they sit in fourth place in the Championship, just one point off the automatic promotion spots and extending their lead over seventh-place Huddersfield Town to four points. With this, they have established themselves as unexpected Premier League contenders and will be hoping to carry this form into their next set of second-tier games.
However, their scoring rate of 1.36 goals per game may prove to be problematic if the Staffordshire outfit’s defence starts to leak goals, though the likes of Ben Wilmot, Harry Souttar and Leo Ostigard are likely to be reliable figures throughout the season.
Nonetheless, pundit Lee Hendrie has identified the attacking key to a potential promotion, saying on the Sky Sports EFL Podcast: “Stoke, since being relegated from the Premier League, just haven’t hit the heights we expected.
“They needed a big rebuild and things are beginning to click. They’ve got really good stability in that team.
“[Nick] Powell is such a big player and Michael O’Neill seems to have got things slowly going in the right direction.
“They played with no fear [against West Brom], that’s what they’ve done this season. They’ve also got that balance, knowing they’ve got protection too.
“[Mario] Vrancic has been a really good signing and there’s Nick Powell, who you will get you goals.
“If they can get a centre forward who can get you double figures, why shouldn’t they be there or thereabouts?
“It’s a fabulous football club. I’ve been there on loan, I know about the foundation of that club and what they’re about.
“Giving Michael O’Neill that time, they’re beginning to show what they’re capable of.”
Lee Hendrie’s last point is a good one. First of all, you have to commend Stoke City’s board for remaining patient and believing in the process, because it seems to have worked out for the best and they are finally reaping the rewards from that.
A very productive summer has also helped them massively in shifting players who were a symbol of the Potters’ mediocrity in recent seasons and bringing in some very capable fresh faces.
The departure of Nathan Collins to Burnley was a blow, but the additions of Ben Wilmot and Leo Ostigard are shrewd and should help them to remain solid at the back.
At the other end of the pitch, the addition of Sam Surridge was eye-catching but the honeymoon period for him is now over. Now is the time for him to establish himself as a leading scorer in the Championship for a side that is thriving at this moment in time.
With service from the likes of Mario Vrancic and Nick Powell, he should have no major problems in doing that, but the whole team will also need to chip in to take the pressure of the AFC Bournemouth man in his first seasons at the bet365 Stadium.
The potential return of Tyrese Campbell, who scored six goals and recorded 13 goal contributions in total in just 19 league appearances last term, should give them a huge boost. Perhaps Campbell could be the man Hendrie thinks Stoke need to push on?