Injuries. No team wants them. Every team gets them. Stoke City – like Rovers – have plenty of them going into Tuesday’s cup tie.
When commentator Andy Gray asked the question “can they do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke?”, he wouldn’t have known that the saying would become a global embodiment of the challenges of the topflight of English football.
Stoke City was known to “punch above its weight” in the Premier League under former managers the likes of Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. However, since the club’s relegation to the Championship in 2018, the Potters have found life in Championship waters to be anything but a “quick return to the topflight”.
The grit and determination that has personified the club for decades still exists, but under Michael O'Neill they play an attractive style of football too and the combination is proving effective.
This season, the Potters are off to an encouraging start and surely have hopes for automatic promotion. The club sits joint top of the Championship table with “Championship new boys” Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, after both clubs were relegated last season. All three teams share 10 points atop the current week’s table.
Stoke ended the 2020/21 season on 46 points and finished 14th in the final Championship table. In the last 20 matches dating back to last season, the Potters have won eight, lost eight and drawn four. However, under the watchful eye of manager Michael O’Neill, Stoke City owns a record of four wins and a draw under its belt in 2021/22. That includes scoring multiple goals in three of the five matches. The former manager of Northern Ireland, O’Neill empowers his preferred 3-5-2 line-up with different attacking threats up top, as he enjoys changing the line-up at times with a deeper squad this season.
This year, goals have come from seven different players, including a pair from newcomer Sam Surridge and a goal added by Jacob Brown. Midfielder Sam Clucas has tallied a goal already in 2021/22 after scoring just two goals all of last season for the Potters before undergoing surgery due to a double hernia in February. Striker Steven Fletcher has yet to find his way onto the score sheet this campaign despite bagging nine a season ago. Fletcher was also riddled with injuries last season, keeping him out of the line-up on numerous occasions.
On the injury front, striker Tyrese Campbell – having scored seven goals a season ago for the Potters before having his season ended prematurely with a knee injury in December, remains doubtful for the game as manager O’Neill has yet to put a timetable on his return to the squad. Attacking midfielder Nick Powell, having suffered a thigh injury earlier in the month, did not play in the last match against Nottingham Forest, but is listed as possible for Tuesday evening’s Carabao Cup tie.
The Potters registered a 2-1 win over Fleetwood Town in the opening round of the competition. Since 2019/20, Stoke has never finished outside the Round of 16 in the Carabao Cup, including a quarterfinals appearance in 2020/21 – the first time in five years the Potters advanced that far in the competition. The last time the Potters failed to reach the Round of 16 was 2018/19 when they lost to Nottingham Forest by a 3-2 score line in the second round.
Rovers and Stoke City have met in the FA Cup third round draw in 2016. Stoke would prevail with a 2-1 win over Rovers, thanks to goals from the aforementioned Crouch and Walters, respectively.