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Opposition Lowdown: Alex Neil’s Stoke City

Reading return to the Select Car Stadium this Sunday with a clash against Stoke City; Steven examines the opposition.

Stoke City v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images


Stoke City finished in 14th position in the Championship last season, the exact same position they finished 2020/21. This will be their fifth consecutive season in the second tier after they were relegated from the Premier League in 2018, following 10 seasons in the top flight.

The Potters currently sit in 16th position in the table having seen two victories, two draws and three losses so far this season. Their wins have come against Blackpool, beating the Tangerines at home, and Blackburn Rovers, where they secured an away triumph at Ewood Park last weekend.

Stoke beat Reading 3-2 at home on the opening day of last season, before The Royals returned the favour with a 2-1 win at home in April.

The boss

Alex Neil: Stoke sacked former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill four weeks into the season, following a poor start, in which they lost three out of their opening five games. O’Neill was replaced by Neil last weekend, who left his post at newly promoted Sunderland.

Neil started his managerial career at Scottish side Hamilton in 2013 and led the side to promotion in his first full season. He then joined Championship side Norwich City in 2015 and led them back to the Premier League via the playoffs in his first season at the club.

Neil was sacked by Norwich in 2017 and then went on to manage Preston North End, where he spent four seasons before joining Sunderland this February. He led the Black Cats back to the Championship, ending their four-year spell in League One, beating Wycombe Wanderers in the playoff final in May.

Neil usually favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, and encourages his team to put the opposition under constant pressure.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images


This summer saw the departure of a number of experienced players on free transfers including Joe Allen (Swansea City), James Chester (Derby County) and Steven Fletcher (Dundee United). Tommy Smith and Tom Ince also joined Middlesbrough and Reading on frees, while Benik Afobe and Michael Doughty moved to Millwall and Luton Town respectively.

Stoke brought in 10 players this summer, with former Royals midfielder Josh Laurent and Cardiff City defender Aden Flint joining on frees, while striker Dwight Gayle and left back Liam McCarron have signed permanently from Newcastle United and Leeds United respectively.

Stoke have also utilised the loan market with six players signing temporary deals, welcoming young defenders Harry Clarke (Arsenal) and Dujon Sterling (Chelsea), midfielders Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth) and Will Smallbone (Southampton), and forwards Liam Delap (Manchester City) and Tariqe Fosu (Brentford).

Stoke have a number of injury issues within their squad at present and will be without former Royal Laurent (ankle), Nick Powell (knee), Josh Tymon (ankle), Harry Clarke (shin), Harry Souttar (knee), Kilkenny (groin) and Sterling for this weekend’s fixture.

Expected line-up

Bonham, Wilmot, Taylor, Flint, Fox, Smallbone, Baker, Clucas, Fosu, Campbell, Delap

Key player

Lewis Baker: Midfielder Baker joined Stoke on a permanent deal in the January transfer window this year, signing a two-and-a-half-year deal with The Potters. Baker is a familiar face to Royals fans, having had a successful loan spell with Reading in the 2018/19 season.

The 27-year old centre midfielder came through the Chelsea academy, but only ever made two first-team appearances for The Blues. He has had a number of loan spells throughout his career, mainly in England, but he has also played in the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey.

Stoke are his first permanent club since Chelsea and he is already making an impact, having been named captain this summer. Baker is an attacking-minded, box-to-box midfielder who has a great eye for a pass and is a strong set-piece taker.

One to watch

Liam Delap: Striker Delap joined Stoke on a season-long loan from Premier League Manchester City this summer. He is the son of Stoke legend Rory Delap, who is currently a coach with The Potters. The 19-year-old striker scored on his City debut in an EFL Cup win against Bournemouth in September 2020 and has represented England from under-15 to under-19 level. Delap is a pacey striker and a powerful number nine, who is held in high regard at City, with hopes that he will fully break into the first team one day.