How have the new signings settled in?
In the summer we signed seven new players. The first of these were the teenage duo Matt Lund and Ben Marshall who joined from Crewe’s academy and were given their first professional contracts at the Britannia Stadium. To date, Lund’s done little to catch the eye, but Marshall has excelled. After a strong pre-season, the winger was sent out on loan to League Two side Northampton, where he became a firm favourite during his three months at Sixfields. More recently he was loaned to Cheltenham, struggling in the same division. He has made a very bright start for the club, with one Cheltenham fan describing his performance in last week’s win over Barnet, in which he netted twice, as the “most complete display of wing play from anyone at the club in years.” He certainly looks a good acquisition, and could make an impact for us in the future.
We then added Dean Whitehead from Sunderland. The midfielder joined for £3 million, potentially rising to £5 million, at the time making him the second most expensive player in the club’s history, but he has made a rather inauspicious start, with many fans criticising his lack of creativity and the apparent nosebleed from which he suffers whenever he enters the opposition’s final third. He has become a regular starter and although he has begun his Stoke career slowly, he will hopefully become a solid performer in the near future.
Next to join were Middlesbrough duo defender Robert Huth and forward Tuncay, who signed for a combined £11 million. Huth has made a promising start in Stoke colours, albeit playing predominantly in his less-favoured right back position, looking for the most part strong and assured. He was recently banned for three games after needlessly lashing out at West Ham’s Matthew Upson, the sort of action he’d do well to eliminate if he is to earn the favour of the Stoke support. I’d like to comment on Tuncay, but feel unable, as so far this season he has probably spent less time on the pitch than our physio, with Stoke manager Tony Pulis’s unwillingness to play him a cause of great consternation for many Stoke fans. The hype surrounding his arrival was huge, but his signing is close to turning into one huge disappointment. It’ll be interesting to see if Tuncay, who’se most probably becoming rather frustrated, will be a Stoke player for very much longer. Regulations forbid him from moving to another English club in January, but there’s nothing to stop him moving abroad, which seems a possibility.
Our final two acquisitions were young Uruguayan midfielder Diego Arismendi and left back Danny Collins. Arismendi, understandably for a young man who has just moved half the way across the world has taken time to settle in, but with good showings in League Cup matches and in the reserves; he recently scored the winner against Chelsea, he seems likely to improve our side in the future. It’s encouraging for us to have signed him, as it was the first time we’d ever signed a player direct from South America, and shows that we are making progress. After a rather shaky start which included giving away a last minute penalty in our draw at Bolton in September, Collins has become a reliable member of our formidable back four, which has kept more league clean sheets then Manchester United’s this season, and he looks set to hold down the left back role for the foreseeable future.
Have we exceeded expectations to date?
For me, the answer’s yes. At the start of the season I predicted we would finish fourteenth, and we currently lie ninth, and show no sign of suffering from the second season syndrome that many pundits suggested would strike us. Our main target for this season has to be survival once again, and after just thirteen games, we are already half way to the 40 points that usually guarantee a club’s top flight status for the next year, which must be seen as a positive thing.
What does January hold for us?
When the transfer re-opens in a month’s time, I don’t expect to see Pulis flashing his chequebook too much. We now have a very large squad, and I believe that Pulis feels we now have the solid core of players upon which he wishes to build our Premier League future. I would like to see us add a creative midfielder, and perhaps one more striker, but really I foresee a transfer window dominated by players exiting the club. With ten already out on loan, it’s clear that Pulis is keen to get rid of some of our squad players, with the likes of Michael Tonge and Richard Cresswell likely to make their respective loan moves, to Preston and Sheffield United, permanent. We may also have to fight to keep some of our best players, most notably young centre back Ryan Shawcross, at the club.
What should our targets be for the rest of the season?
Ultimately, I’ll be satisfied as long as we avoid relegation, but after the start we made it would be great to see us go on and mount a meaningful assault on the top ten. We ended with 45 points last season, and to overtly demonstrate that we’re making progress it would be good to beat that. I also hope to see some of our most promising young players, such as Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton given more of a chance to show their class in the Premier League, while a decent FA Cup run would be welcome.