Verdict delivered on Steven Schumacher after half-a-season at Stoke City and candidates for player of the year

Stoke City head coach Steven Schumacher celebrates
Steven Schumacher has guided Stoke City to safety in the Championship. -Credit:Shutterstock

A big intake of breath and Stoke City head into the last game of the season, at least sure of their place in the Championship. How should Steven Schumacher line up his side against Bristol City, how much credit does he deserve for keeping the Potters up and which player stands out over the last few months?

On our final week fans’ panel to discuss all that and more are RAY CALLEJA, from Malta; DAN DELACOE -EYRE, from Bünde in Germany but now living in Richmond, North Yorkshire; and RICHARD JAMES, from Blythe Bridge.

What’s your starting XI vs Bristol City?

Ray Calleja: I believe Stoke’s approach will likely be similar to the one Schumacher employed against Plymouth. For Stoke to secure their third consecutive victory, the midfielders and forwards must remain focused and determined to be on the front foot and keep Bristol City under pressure. It’s worth noting that Bristol City boasts the joint-strongest defence in the division, having conceded only 47 goals, on par with West Brom. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schumacher fields the same line-up for the third consecutive game. If changes are to be made, I could see Michael Rose replacing Wilmot, and possibly Burger starting in place of Thompson.

READ MORE: Six Stoke players could say farewell to the bet365 Stadium after Bristol City

READ MORE: Ben Wilmot opens up on season and who will succeed him as player of year

Dan Delacoe-Eyre: The key thought process for Stoke is what we should do to maintain momentum into next season. We have not won three games on the bounce for a long time and if we do so we can prepare during close season on a positive footing.

The other side of the coin is do we give the opportunities for our young players the chance to experience a more positive first team atmosphere now the pressure is off. My thoughts are a mix of the two by starting with a strong side and include players who are in Schumacher’s thoughts for next season and then bring in the youngsters as the game goes on (providing we are in a good position). The team for me would be:

Goalkeeper: Iverson (with the possibility of bringing him in permanently next season, unless we go for the Rotherham keeper)

Defence: Hoever (At 22 he has time to improve and we should sign him, depending on his price tag after he signed a new contract with Wolves), Rose, McNally (should not come back next season but edging out Wilmot) and Tchamadeu.

Midfield: Burger, Laurent (who was outstanding in the last game) and Jun-ho (a definite rising star)

Forwards: Manhoeff, Campbell (who I think will re-sign), Vidigal

Substitutes should include youngsters such as Sol Sidibe, Lowe, and Liam McCarron, who I am hearing some good reports about. This should give them the experience and drive to break through more next season and talking of next season it should also be the likes of Emre Tezgel who should now be breaking into the first team squad and start realising their potential.

Richard James: I’d go strong in our last game to keep momentum. We’ve not been in a stadium to witness a win in the last day of a campaign since coming back to the Championship. I know there may be a tendency to blood some of the kids but I want to see us win three on the bounce. Let’s finish the season on a high for once!

Iversen, Hoever, Wilmot, McNally, Stevens, Thompson, Cundle, Laurent, Manhoef, Campbell, Junho

Who is your player of the season and why?

Ray Calleja: Stoke’s season has been very inconsistent and, in my opinion, there is not one player who has been consistently good throughout the season. Until a few weeks ago I would have chosen Wouter Burger hands down, but following his unnecessary yellow card in the 2-1 win at Preston in early March, he was suspended for two games and then he struggled when he was back in the team. He has not been his old self since. Earlier in the season, even when things weren’t going well for the team, he was a leader on the pitch and being very effective as a deep lying playmaker. He would be my choice of captain if he stays at the club.

A close second for me would be the young South Korean, Bae Junho. After a slow start, he was able to get physically stronger and adapted much better to the Championship in the second part of the season. As an attacking midfielder he is very skilful and a joy to watch and has made a huge contribution to Stoke’s survival.

Dan Delacoe-Eyre: It has been such a difficult season for us and it would be quite easy to simply say no one. But there have been some bright sparks within the team. Burger gets a mention as I admire his tenacity and will to win, and he has shown some excellent skill and attitude to drive the team forward on and off the pitch. I feel he is future captain material. Manhoef has been a one in a million signing (pun intended) and is really starting to show his potential and ability at this level to be a great player for us.

For me, however, I feel that Bae Junho edges both players out. As a young player he has had to adapt to a completely different game, and while he may have had an up and down start in the early season, I can see his game has developed and he is becoming a crucial engine for Stoke’s midfield with a touch of flair. It is no coincidence he is seen as a future superstar for his country, and I have no doubt that he will shine even brighter for Stoke. His awareness and touch beguile someone of his age and as he develops he will soon have teams in higher leagues looking at him as a prospective signing. So well done Bae Jun-ho, for me, you are my player of the season.

Richard James : I’d have scrapped it this year as nobody has really averaged above a 6 for the whole season. It feels like rewarding mediocrity. I’d probably pick Junho based on him being one of the very few bright spots and the fact he’s one of the very few players who can bring a collective smile to the support’s glum face. Wouter Burger has been really excellent in a handful of games but for me hasn’t quite done enough given his transfer fee, and it’s quite telling the manager has looked elsewhere in the last few key games.

What’s your verdict on Steven Schumacher so far?

Ray Calleja: Despite arriving in difficult circumstances last December, Steven Schumacher has made significant improvements to the team’s playing style, and the squad has responded positively to his management style. Although there have been highs and lows along the way, he has been able to steady the ship and, in the end, ensure safety, avoiding relegation to League One with impressive performances as we saw against Leeds, Preston, Plymouth and Southampton.

Schumacher emphasises the values of bravery, hard work and a desire to play attacking football. He also had to handle disciplinary issues like Ryan Mmaee’s case and others. And I think he did that very effectively giving out a clear message to the squad that he will tolerate no nonsense.

The main point of criticism directed towards Schumacher has been the numerous changes he kept making to his starting eleven from one game to the next. But some may argue that managers adapt to different opponents and situations.

On the positive side, he has been a refreshing young personality being able to put out a team which looks fitter than under previous managers and overall able to play football on the front foot. I think that with more time to implement his strategies and strengthen the squad, he should be allowed to build upon this foundation. I think there is cause for optimism for Stoke City’s future under his leadership.

At the same time, I must mention that the appointment of Jonathan Walters has unified the club. There is a connection again between the fans and the team. Performances have improved and so have results. It is no co-incidence that this new unity has helped Stoke retain its Championship status.

Dan Delacoe-Eyre: Schumacher is an interesting character for me, and I can see that he could finally be a real difference in breaking Stoke’s consistent failure to get into the top half of the table since relegation as we look for a much-improved position in the league towards an eventual promotion challenge over the next few seasons.

Since the arrival of Jon Walters he has visibly shown a new lease of life and increased confidence in being able to trust his own abilities to do his job. His managerial style shows an ability to understand the importance of fans as the core of the club without being over the top or patronising along with identifying issues within the playing squad where it is obvious to see that our oft quoted issues about our fitness levels have improved to suit his style of play.

I like the way he does not shy from accepting when he or his players make mistakes, and you can see that as a young manager he is not afraid to adapt and learn from them. I like his ability to change the style of play to adapt to the opposition and is not afraid to change what is happening on the pitch during games rather than simply and stubbornly sticking to one way. This has meant that there has been a gradual upturn in our results and performances, and I feel that the players now understand their roles without fear of retribution and buy into him as their coach.

He is not afraid to take decisive action against players who have shown poor attitude yet still allows them the chance to prove their worthiness to get back into the team rather than simply punishing them.

This summer will be interesting as I feel he, with the support of Jon Walters, will work really well together to get the key players that Stoke need to continue our road upwards. Stoke fans will be looking for marquee players but I feel this will not happen as they both have sensible heads to know what Stoke need rather than signing for signings sake. I feel that Schumacher will learn and build on what he has done this season into next and has had a good if not spectacular start as Stoke’s manager as we build to hopefully a much brighter future.

Richard James: It’s difficult not to like the manager as a human being, and his stand he took against Ryan Mmaee was a breath of fresh air. It’s been difficult to judge Schumacher accurately given the mess of a squad he inherited and the dark cloud that hovered over the club when he arrived.

I think at times he’s looked slightly confused and perhaps a little overawed by the job at hand and there have been times when I wondered if he could turn the tide to keep us up. However, he finally landed on a preferred system and a more consistent line up and the last 11 games have given us far more hope for the future.

We still have a big summer ahead of us and the season will live or die on us adding some streetwise and dependable players that we can rely on week in, week out and answering the age old issue of getting players who look comfortable when they see the whites of the keeper’s eyes. Answer that conundrum and who knows where it takes us?

Agree or disagree with our panelists? Have your say in the comments section