Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea’s Stoke City showed the easiest route to avoid relegation in recent weeks. Faced with a table that had them too close for comfort a few places above the drop zone, they started winning games. Six points from two wins in a row is the difference between 15th and 11th, with Stoke looking perfectly safe eight points above the drop.
Here’s the thing about Stoke, they lost what some thought was a relegation derby against Aston Villa on April 6th and followed that up with an expected loss to eventual Premier League champions Manchester United. They followed that up with wins over QPR, now officially relegated, and Norwich City over the weekend. Norwich are now 14th, six points above the drop. In other words, Stoke’s response to their relegation threat was pragmatic.
Far too often, the threat of relegation turns English clubs into the equivalent of school kids trying to figure out the unlikely math that turns their impending report card into the highest grade mathematically possible when their only concern should be passing. If results haven’t been going your way with only a handful of games left in the season, it’s highly unlikely you’ll run the table.
Stoke had to manage expectations after that loss to Aston Villa. They did that in a way that now separates themselves from the truly troubled clubs in the bottom half of the table.
The threat of relegation changes the way clubs look at their schedule, and that happens earlier in the New Year when there are obvious problems. Far too often, that becomes a series on unrealistic scenarios. Stoke played against that late in the season and did enough to end up in significantly better shape than anyone should’ve reasonably expected. The line between success and failure can be thin, but it’s a hard line. Too often, that catches clubs in unrealistic moments, making circumstances more difficult.
Stoke City’s turnaround isn’t the glorious late season run that sees a bad team suddenly taking points from contenders, but it’s certainly enough to do the job. When relegation or safety hangs in the balance, that’s all that matters.
Corner Rating: (with 1 Stoke sliding down the table and turning their remaining three games into another struggle and 11 Stoke staying in the middle of the table) 10.
Last Week’s Corner: Critiquing how MLS values its goalkeepers takes more than a week to really judge, so we’re staying with our 7.