Stoke City sprint finish 'excites and terrifies' pundit about what could happen next

Lewis Baker salutes Stoke City fans after a 1-0 win at Southampton secured the club's Championship status.
Lewis Baker salutes Stoke City fans after the 1-0 win at Southampton secured the club's Championship status. -Credit:Alex Burstow/Getty Images

It has been an intense period inside the Stoke City bubble for the last couple of months. Outside, well, the pundits have been having fun watching it all unravel.

Commentators have referred to the Championship relegation battle, which has felt like it’s involved nearly half the division at times, as a sign of why it’s one of the best divisions in world football. It isn’t particularly enjoyable when you’re actually in it, but now Stoke can take a deep breath. Perhaps it is a chance to be more reflective of how they eventually escaped.

Steven Schumacher’s squad sank into the drop zone in late February after 34 games, pulled out after the 37th game and were able to confirm safety in the 45th.

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There have been eye-catching away wins at Preston North End, Hull and Southampton, convincing home wins over Middlesbrough and Plymouth, an entertaining draw with West Brom, a nail-biting draw with Sheffield Wednesday and even an encouraging defeat at Leeds.

There have been a couple of moments – heart-sinking defeats to Norwich and Swansea – that have kept it exciting for the neutrals but the season is coming to a close with a gathering optimism. Not many would have expected that a couple of months ago to the point where it's almost a scary thought.

Ali Maxwell, co-host of the comprehensively-informed Not The Top 20 podcast, said: “Since the start of March, a point when you might remember Stoke fell into the bottom three and everything felt very, very, very scary for them, they’ve won five, drawn three and lost three. A tonne of credit should go to Steven Schumacher. I reckon big Jonny Walters will probably take a bit of credit as well. His arrival at the club as interim technical director and then confirmed as permanent sporting director has clearly injected some belief, energy, positivity, whatever words you want to use for it.

“Stoke are finishing the season really well and it excites me and terrifies me to say that I’ve loved watching them in the last few weeks. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times.

“The shackles have come off a bit and they’ve looked like a Steven Schumacher team, as we remember it from Argyle, and there are some exciting players there, some exciting young attacking players there, and they were in full flow against Saints. This wasn’t smash it and grab it at all, I think they had eight shots on target at St Mary’s.

“I saw a great Tweet over the weekend from an account called @alexcmfc, I guess he’s a Boro fan, saying that each year the best Championship gimmick is when dozens of fans of teams who have avoided relegation by going on a little run at the end say that with a good summer and a bit of backing, we’ll get play-offs next season. I don’t know if that was directed at Stoke City but I’ve been feeling it so I’m sure their fans have.”

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