Stoke City’s first year back in the Sky Bet Championship has been nothing short of a disaster, with an expensively assembled squad failing and entering the run-in still looking over their shoulders.
A relegation might seem unlikely at this stage, but it highlights how far Stoke have fallen short of their ambition this season, with the Potters entering the campaign as favourites to win the Championship.
Gary Rowett has come and gone, with Nathan Jones now picking up the pieces at the bet365 Stadium and looking to rebuild.
For Stoke and their supporters, they will be anxious not to follow in the footsteps of Aston Villa in the coming years as they bid to return to the riches of the Premier League.
Back in 2016, Villa were relegated to the Championship and went big on returning to the top-flight, spending heaps of money in the summer and then in January – a similar tactic to the one adopted at Stoke.
Rowett spent significant money on Benik Afobe, Tom Ince and Ryan Woods, whilst keeping players like Jack Butland and Joe Allen around. And, ultimately, it has been for very little reward, with Stoke not in the mix for promotion.
From here, Stoke can’t follow the same path as Villa, who chased the dream again under Steve Bruce last season, with no end reward.
That’s left Villa in a difficult position under Dean Smith this season, with a fourth consecutive year in the Championship looming.
Stoke have already swerved making a similar mistake to Villa with their appointment of Nathan Jones. When Rowett departed, a high-profile name might’ve been targeted, but the Potters went for the young, lower league option, who given time, should get things right.
The challenge now is not throwing needless money at this talented squad. Instead, Stoke need to trust Jones to improve what he’s got available to him, whilst making a limited number of shrewd additions.
That might mean that Stoke aren’t favourites for promotion next season and they might not even make it back to the Premier League during the 2019/20 campaign. But they will be in a far better position to build than some of their rivals.