Welcome back ladies and gents! Last time I left you we were sitting 2nd in the league and only 2 points behind West Brom at the top at the end of November 2026. There is a lot of reason to think that this could be the season we make it to the Premier League, however we would need to sort out our away form to make that a reality.
We have won only 1 of our last 5 away from home, and to go further back we have taken only 10 points from a possible 24 on the road since the beginning of September 2026. Our home form was Championship winning stuff, but our away form and performances were really a concern and could cost us if it carried on in a similar vein for the rest of the season.
In this episode I will take you through the busy months of December 2026 & January 2027, which includes a quiet transfer window (for my standards anyway) and even more teams sniffing around with offers to prise me away… come on then you know the drill!
We started the month with an early assessment of our youth intake this year. Would we have the next best thing to come out of Stoke since Rory Delap’s throw-ins and Cheese Oatcakes?
Not quite. Looks like it’s going to be a pretty poor intake overall, but looking forward to seeing this centre-back and attacking midfielder, would like to bring through one youngster from the club. I have brought through youngsters that I’ve signed from other teams since being in England but I would like to do a fully home-grown one. Last time I did that was Dafydd Davies at Llanelli Town.
Anyway back to the football. December promised to be a crucial month with games against a number of the sides around us! 6 games in total, 4 at home sandwiched between away games to start and end the month. Could we find some consistency and really gain some momentum?
HAHA WE DID IT! FINALLY!! THE PERFECT MONTH!
What a month to do it in as well considering we faced 3 teams who were in the top 6! Let’s break it down. The month looked like it would start with more dropped points away from home as Reading went 1-0 up in the 11th minute. Fortunately we managed to level to 1-1 in the first half before an even game swung in our favour in the final 10 minutes, George Edmundson rose highest to nod in an 82nd minute winner (2-1).
We then had a run of 4 straight home games, which given our form I was confident we could do well in, however tough games against Nottingham Forest and Brentford would definitely test us. We managed to edge a scrappy game against Nottingham Forest (1-0), I would say deservedly overall, despite being down to 10 men for the final 10 minutes as on loan Arsenal wonderkid Elias Lemos was given a straight red for a shocking challenge.
We then came from 1-0 down to beat Coventry 3-1 pretty comfortably in the end, before two first half goals from Caden Clark put us in control against Ipswich and despite a late rally from the Tractor Boys, we managed to hold on (2-1). Up next was Brentford who you may remember beat us 1-4 on the opening day of the season. They looked like they may do the double over us as they lead 0-1 at half time, however Matias Fonseca levelled the scores just past the hour mark before a 92nd minute own goal from Reece Burke gave us an incredible 2-1 win!
Then it was the big one. West Brom were our closest title rivals at the start of this game, and a victory away on their patch would really be something to behold and give the lads confidence they had fully shaken off those away day struggles from earlier in the season. In front of the cameras we had to do it the hard way, as we went 0-1 down after only 50 seconds… nightmare. Fortunately Caden Clark kept up his fine form of late and got us back in the game halfway through the first half. Then in the second half it was the Kader Keita & Neil Maupay show as the 2 combined twice to give us an incredible 3-1 away win.
Unsurprisingly the perfect month of results was enough for us to be awarded Manager of the Month for December 2026.
Winning awards is all good and well, but how did this incredible month of results impact the table? Were we now in with a real chance of a title push going into the new year?
Oh yes! I would say being 10 points clear with just under half of the season remaining is enough to suggest a title push is a real possibility. However as we all know things can change so quickly in this league, for example I had a 6 point advantage over Birmingham in the final play off place with only 10 games to go and we still threw it away! So I won’t be counting any chickens yet, particularly with the busy months of January and February still to contend with.
However the board seemed happy enough with the performance of the boys so far and they showed this by offering me a new 3 year contract with my current deal due to expire at the end of the season.
I decided to decline talks for now until the end of the season. Not that I am looking to leave or anything, but there are a lot of clubs sniffing around me at the moment and I would like to keep my options open for now and reconvene talks at the end of the season, if appropriate.
One of the clubs that were interested in me were the team that caused so much heartbreak for me at the end of last season, Birmingham. They had beaten us to the final play-off place and then gone on to be promoted to the Premier League! Their manager in the game, Alex Neil, had been poached by Sheffield United and we were invited in to talk to them.
At the end of the day they are now a premier league side so I decided to go along and talk to them, but in my mind I was already convinced that even if they offered me the job I probably wouldn’t take it. I looked through their squad and I didn’t feel it was any better than what I had built at Stoke if I’m honest. Fortunately in the end they didn’t offer me the job anyway, they went with Chris Wilder so it was a straight swap of managers between Birmingham & Sheffield United.
January promised to be an entertaining month with an FA Cup Third Round tie against Premier League Norwich followed by 5 league games. However before we get into that, let’s go through the movements in the transfer window. I promise you that this was one of the quieter ones of this journey!
Fairly straightforward, you will remember from episode 1 of this series that we made 4 free signings who were to join us in January and here they are! Jacobsson & Magnusson will go into the first team squad whilst the plan is to find loan moves for Saldarriaga & Vaananen.
We also signed a very promising keeper in Charlie Setford from Ajax for £2.2m. My scouts recommended him highly and as we all know I trust my backroom staff immensely so I went ahead and got the deal done. Signing RB Devid Bouah for only £1.3m and £6k per week was a no brainer and provides much needed competition in that position. Then finally we used our connection with Arsenal to sign Omari Hutchinson (RW) on loan for the remainder of the season completely free of charge! I felt we were lacking real competition for Kwame Poku on that side, particularly in the role of inverted winger.
Take a look at all the signings using the arrows below!
A couple of surprise deals in here but I will explain. Selling Joe Powell (CM) to SIPG for £30m was a phenomenal bit of business considering he only had 18 months left on his contract and was not a guaranteed name in the first XI due to our strength in that position. Lewis Coyle (RB) was passed his best, and although still capable I decided to sell him and bring in Devid Bouah instead.
We also sorted out some loan deals for our youngsters to keep developing. I look forward to welcoming them back at the start of next season where hopefully they will be in a position to challenge for a place in the starting line up.
There were also a couple more permanent deals to finish the window, Kenedy was a tricky one for me, he had been my player of the season last season from when I took over. However the arrivals of Lewis-Potter and then Caden Clark pushed him down the pecking order a bit and at 31 he was on the decline. When I joined I would have only accepted offers of around £20m for him, however in the end I just wanted to get him off the wage bill and £6m from SIPG was better than having a player of his talent sulking in the reserves.
Finally we decided to let Daniel Ballard go. He was one of my first signings when I joined Stoke and had been an absolute rock at the back for me, so much so that I made him club captain at the start of the season. However again he was just a bit unlucky, he had an injury at the start of the season and George Edmundson came in for him and has been formidable ever since! Plus as Brighton are a Premier League side, when the offer came in he wanted to speak to them and I decided it was best I didn’t stand in his way.
Overall it was a very decent window. I tried to keep it as quiet as possible and although we still had 7 players coming in, most of them were tied up well in advance of the window opening. In the end we sold 4 players for £46m and brought in 7 for £3.5m… not bad if you ask me.
Some huge deals in terms of players leaving the Championship this window, but no prizes for guessing who the biggest spenders were!
Back to the thing we all love the most, the football! As I said earlier January was going to be tough but it was possible that we could go another month winning every game in the league… back-to-back perfect months in the Championship? The stuff of dreams…
And a dream is all it shall remain. We started the month with a trip to Carrow Road for our FA Cup 3rd Round tie against Norwich, in the end we were simply outplayed by a team with significantly more quality than ourselves, but again a good test for us and we weren’t embarrassed by any means (0-2).
The home game against Millwall was genuinely a training exercise. They had 11 men behind the ball and we had to break them down, which fortunately didn’t take us long as Fonseca scored in the 5th minute. I have a feeling that if we didn’t get one early we wouldn’t get one. I kept expecting them to have their moment of domination but it never came as they failed to register a single shot on target and had only 2 shots in the game overall (1-0).
The Huddersfield game was a different story, they at least tried to play a bit. We still dominated and should have scored long before Lewis-Potter put us in front to seal an important 3 points (1-0). Blackpool were on a horrendous run of form heading into the next one and I took advantage of this by rotating the squad heavily, giving opportunities to some youngsters as well. You may think this nearly back fired but honestly we were brilliant, they had 3 shots all game and scored from 2 but the result was really never in doubt (3-2).
The arrival of Omari Hutchinson seemed to kick Kwame Poku back into form, as he had gone 10 games without a goal before his arrival, and then scored 4 goals in 2 games since he walked through the door… just goes to show that you can never let players get comfortable! The game against Bristol City was similar to the one against Millwall, seems that teams just don’t bother trying to attack against us at home, such is the reputation that proceeds us. Fortunately Kwame Poku brought some quality to the match at a pivotal time, scoring 2 late goals to give us a deserved 2-0 win.
The final game of the month was actually the first time a team tried to play football against us at the Bet365 for quite some time, and Swansea were rewarded with a share of the points (1-1). It was a frustrating game however, as we were again the far better side but just couldn’t finish our chances and with that the possibility of back-to-back perfect months was gone! Still though, we are unbeaten in 22 league games since the start of September 2026 and that has left us sitting pretty 10 points clear at the top of the table with only 15 games to go…
Now unfortunately I forgot to screenshot the table at the end of January (rookie error I know… sorry!) but as I said we are still in the same position as we were at the end of December 2026. Plus I did remember to screenshot our second consecutive Manager of the Month award… result.
You know what’s next… or do you? We should be getting our head down and focusing all of our efforts on getting the job done, winning the league as soon as possible and thinking about our plans for welcoming Premier League football to Stoke next season. However a few clubs have other ideas as we are presented with a very interesting opportunity that may be too good to turn down…
Find out how we get on in the next episode which will drop on Saturday 13th March 2021.
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While you’re here on DP-FM if you want to follow more challenges go over to Scott’s (the co-author of this site) challenge where he is on a journey to rebuild Bolton Wanderers and take them on a Europa League run!
To read from the start click here – https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/bolton-back-to-europa-s1e1/
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