Stoke City has been relegated from the Premier League after a decade-long stay in England’s top flight.
The Potters, in need of a draw to stay alive and a win to have any real hope of survival, threw away a halftime lead at home against Crystal Palace. Patrick van Aanholt’s 86th-minute winner condemned them to a 2-1 defeat, and to the Championship.
There were sullen faces around the Bet365 Stadium, and of course tears at the final whistle. There were chants of “City till I die” and reciprocated applause from players to fans and vice versa. But there were heads in hands and blank stares. There was flat-out dejection.
Even on the field, during the game, after James McArthur equalized for Palace in the second half, Stoke players almost seemed resigned to their fate.
They simply weren’t good enough. Not good enough on the afternoon. Never good enough throughout a surprisingly dreadful season, despite a squad that had received significant investment at both ends of the field.
The Potters, in the fourth tier of English football at the turn of the century, achieved promotion in 2008 under Tony Pulis. And they stuck around comfortably for five seasons, riding Pulis’ brutally effective route-one tactics to five consecutive finishes between 11th and 14th.
They then hired Mark Hughes with an eye toward taking the next step. Stability was no longer the goal; progress was. And for three or four years, there was progress. There were three straight ninth-place finishes. There were more goals, and more expansive attacking. There was flair. There was more money thrown at foreigners like Xherdan Shaqiri.
But somehow, in 2017-18, everything crumbled. Hughes began with an odd three-at-the-back experiment despite having no wingbacks on his roster. The problems clearly went beyond the manager, though. The defense, previously a strength, was one of the worst in the Premier League.
Hughes was sacked mid-season. Paul Lambert, his successor, won his first game in charge, but hasn’t won since. And his 13th game in a row without a victory left Stoke as the first team relegated from the first division in 2018.
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