This article is part of Football League World’s ‘The Verdict’ series, which provides personal opinions from the FLW writers regarding the latest breaking news, teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
With just four matches to date, Stoke City have picked up ten points and are now level with newly relegated sides Fulham and West Bromwich Albion in the Championship.
This form has come without the services of key player Tyrese Campbell who is recovering from injury. The Potters’ shrewd business over the summer and faith in Michael O’Neill is suggesting they may have struck the right formula.
They travel to title favourites Fulham on Saturday, fearless and looking to head in the first international break unbeaten, hoping to further convince fans they should be dreaming of a Premier League return.
Here, we get the thoughts of a selection of FLW writers on whether Stoke City are realistic automation promotion contenders in 2021/22…
I think this is a question that we maybe need to answer after this weekend.
It’s been a really positive start to the season for the Potters and, in Michael O’Neill, they have one of the Championship’s top managers at the helm.
However, they are going to be going up against some good sides in the automatic promotion race, and they face one of those sides this weekend in the form of Fulham.
Fulham will be up there come the end of the season and Marco Silva’s side will be looking to knock Stoke down a peg or two this weekend.
If Stoke can come out of that with credit in the bank (and some points), their confidence of lasting the distance in the promotion race is going to grow.
There’s just this feeling that this Saturday is the big test for O’Neill’s side.
I think play-off contenders more than automatic challengers, to be honest.
I think they’ve had a really good start and it is clear that Michael O’Neill has really started to have an impact there, with some really good signings being made and the players clearly on board with the instructions and ideas he’s tried to get across.
Certainly, I think that should only continue for the rest of this season and I think Stoke will therefore be in the play-off picture for the business end of the year, I just wonder whether they can compete with the squads that those at the top have.
Fulham, West Brom and Bournemouth among others all look strong and though Stoke can give any of them a game this season, it’s over 46 matches the campaign is decided.
I just think they’ll be play-off challengers rather than top two.
It’s probably a bit too early to tell just yet, but they look like a perfect all-round unit.
The Potters have had a few steady seasons just settling in the Championship, but this looks to be the year where they look to be giving it a real go and look a strong side.
They have recruited well, and I think the technical quality they have in midfield in Vrancic and Sawyers will give them the platform to really thrive going forward – they also know what it takes to win promotion and are good characters to have.
I’d back Sam Surridge to score goals, too, and they look strong in every area of the pitch.
If they can stay lucky with injuries and find a bit of consistency over the course of the season, they should be right up there.