Frustrating start, top six ambitions and prioritising youth: How Blackpool's next opponents Stoke City are shaping up

Blackpool head to the bet365 Stadium this Saturday looking to make it two wins from two at the start of the 2022/23 Championship season.

Thursday, 4th August 2022, 8:00 am

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The Seasiders now return to the venue of one of last season’s most memorable away days, with a late Josh Bowler strike handing them a 1-0 victory against Michael O’Neill’s men.

Stoke, meanwhile, got their season off to a losing start, slumping to a 2-0 defeat to Millwall courtesy of two Charlie Cresswell goals.

To get an idea of what Blackpool are facing this weekend, The Gazette caught up with Pete Smith, of the Stoke Sentinel.

It was a disappointing way to start the season for Stoke, how would you sum up the performance?

Frustrating. It was a game of few chances but Millwall always had a threat to win it from set pieces. They scored from two corners and might have had one more from another but for a good save from Joe Bursik. It wasn't that Stoke didn't know what to expect, they just didn't deal with it well enough. There was some decent play in patches but not sustained enough to really crank up any pressure and they didn't test the Millwall keeper anywhere near as much as they needed. Not many teams are going to go to Millwall and have it their own way but Stoke will be kicking themselves that they gave away avoidable goals and couldn't threaten more.

Stoke boss Michael O'Neill is under pressure to improve on recent seasons

What's the realistic aim for the season?

I think Michael O'Neill probably got it right when he said that if you can hover around the top half in the Championship then you've always got a decent chance of breaking into the play-off places. That's the target, to put themselves in with a chance of breaking into that top six for as long as possible. There have been four bottom half finishes since relegation and fans won't really accept anything less than a sustained push.

Has it been a decent summer for the club in the transfer market?

Well, Stoke transfer windows are a bit like the French revolution and it's still way too early to make a judgement. The last couple of deals will be key and could make a massive difference. There have been exits for most of the last survivors of the parachute payment era or pre-pandemic contracts: Benik Afobe, Joe Allen, Tom Ince, Tommy Smith. That was necessary in terms of Financial Fair Play and the squad is also a lot younger, with hope that players are going in the right direction in their careers. Young assets are tied down to long-term deals too. The midfield has been reshaped this year with Lewis Baker coming in from Chelsea in January and Josh Laurent, Will Smallbone and Gavin Kilkenny joining in the summer. Blackpool old boy Jordan Thompson has just signed a new contract too and will be hoping this can be the season he can hold down a starting shirt. He was unlucky with injuries just when it looked like that might happen last year. Dwight Gayle is an important addition up front and the defence is pretty new too. Harry Clarke has joined on loan from Arsenal, Aden Flint from Cardiff and Connor Taylor is back from loan at Bristol Rovers ready to make his breakthrough.

What player should Blackpool fans look out for?

Connor Taylor made an impressive full debut last weekend. He's big and blonde and really catches the eye. He looks like a decent footballer. There is hope that Will Smallbone, on loan from Southampton, can add some creativity from midfield too.

Are any players missing through injury?

Yes, unfortunately Harry Souttar is still recovering from an ACL he picked up on international duty with Australia last November. He wants to get back in time to prove his fitness for the World Cup and he makes such a huge difference to Stoke. One of the best players in the Championship. Nick Powell is out too. He had horrible luck with injuries through last season, was fit at the start of pre-season then did his medial ligament in the first friendly. Out for a couple of months. A fit and firing Powell would be a season changer... if they can get him fit and firing.