It has not been an easy time for Nathan Jones.
Stoke are without a win this season in the Championship, they are second from bottom of the table, and on Tuesday night they were knocked out of the Carabao Cup at League Two side Crawley.
The visit of in-form Nottingham Forest, live on Sky Sports Football on Friday night, could be make or break for Jones at the bet365 Stadium. And he is under no illusions to that fact.
“How much more pressure can you put on any one game, manager or result? If you want to put a little more on it then that is fine by me, because it will be no more than I put on myself,” he told Sky Sports, when asked about the magnitude of their upcoming match.
“I put myself under [that pressure] as a manager. Luton were a massive club and we had to win every game. I could have taken an easy job after that where I could bed in as a Championship manager, but I have taken one where the pressure is to win every game.
“But I like the pressure and I enjoy that pressure, it’s why I do the job. Otherwise I would go back to Wales and live happily ever after and see all my mates. But that’s not the life I want.”
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At times Stoke have been unlucky but there are times where Jones also hasn’t helped himself. On Tuesday, even with his side crying out for a win, he made a host of changes to his side for their trip to Crawley. They drew 1-1 after ending the tie with 10 men, before being dumped out on penalties.
“Pretty much every higher-league club made changes, and we didn’t actually lose the game we lost it on penalties,” he says defiantly. “I expected we had enough to have won that game, but I misjudged it.
“The first 45 minutes was as poor as I have seen from a group of my players since I have been a manager, but in the second half we came out and controlled the game. Then, another rash decision costs us and we end up drawing the game.
“We expect to be better, but I would rather focus on the league performances. We were excellent against Bristol City and I believe we would have gone on to win that game were it not for another red card, and against Brentford it was one of our most complete away performances. What we now have to do is turn these performances into points.”
Jones was appointed as Gary Rowett’s replacement at Stoke in January, but his record makes for grim reading. They have won just four of his 34 games in charge thus far, and this season they have picked up just two points. Only the even more troubled form of Huddersfield keeps them off the bottom of the Championship.
The Welshman insists, however, that his side’s performances have been better than their league position would suggest.
Stoke vs N Forest
September 27, 2019, 7:00pm
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“Obviously we haven’t got the results we would have wanted, and, at times, I don’t think we’ve got the results we have deserved,” he said.
“There are times where we have done more than enough to win games but we have lost. I know that sounds very bold bearing in mind where we are, but our performance levels in a lot of games have been excellent. There are games we have dominated where we should have won but haven’t.
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“Errors have cost us and we have had a bit of bad luck in terms of sendings off, penalty decisions and so on, and it does seem like everything has gone against us. But we can’t hide behind that because at the minute we haven’t been good enough. With the level of players we have here we are underachieving. I make no bones about that, and that falls with me.
“We have tried to be dominant in every game and in the early part of the season we were statistically as good as any side in the division. That has slightly changed now with certain things, but the performances have given me enough hope to know we can turn this around.”
Stoke were expected to win promotion straight back to the Premier League after being relegated in 2018. They managed to keep the majority of their squad together and made some big signings, but bouncing back from the drop is never easy, and their struggles in the Championship have only served to highlight the difficulties at the club that triggered their demise in the first place. It hasn’t, after all, been too long since the Potters were regulars in the top half of the top flight.
“It has happened to Leeds, Sunderland and other clubs that are used to playing in the Premier League,” said Jones. “Suddenly you can go on a downward spiral and it is important to arrest that curve before it continues.
“Much has been made of the problems here. I came in with my eyes open over what we had to do, but it has taken longer than I thought, not just in terms of results, but also in changing certain things. We knew what we had to do and it has taken time.
“The last 10 days are the only times I have been able to pick from a full squad, and it has been very unsettled. But we are not hiding behind that, because even with all the uncertainty we know we should be getting better results. But I know the good work we have done behind the scenes, and I know the platform is here to put the club standing in good stead for a long time.
“I know either I get results or I will be replaced because that is the nature of the business, and I have absolutely no problem with that. But we know the work we have done and the owners have as well, that is why they have given us the patience they have. Now it is time to start repaying that faith.”
Luton were very much a club on an upward trajectory under Jones when he left at the start of this year. They went onto win League One and the irony that they are now above Stoke in the table won’t be lost on him.
But does he regret his decision to make the move? Not one bit.