Stoke City haven’t had much to shout about since their 10-year stay in the Premier League ended in 2018. But this season and the summer just gone should give fans cause for optimism.

The second half of last season was a turgid time to be a Stoke City fan. Any hopes of a top-six finish faded in quick-time and the club looked as though it was slowly creeping towards the top of a very slippery slope. There’d been no shortage of reports about the Potters’ mammoth wage budget, which alongside Aston Villa’s eclipsed any other in the Championship only a few seasons ago.

Six wins in the second half of the 2020/21 season, after the turn of the year, saw Michael O’Neill’s side claim a 14th-place finish and quickly after the end of the campaign, it became evident that the club was on a mission to start shedding weight off of their wage bill.

From the outside looking in, it seemed like the Stoke City officials suddenly realised the peril that their previous misspending in the Premier League and indeed in their first couple of semesters back in the Championship had landed them in. As above, Stoke City had a monster £56million yearly wage budget for the 2018/19 season but in the summer transfer window just gone, the club made waves and rid themselves of 13 players, including the sale of Nathan Collins to Burnley thought to be worth around £12million to Stoke City.

According to sources available online, Salary Sport and footballleaguefc.com, the Potters managed to shave a cool £12,026,800 off their wage bill over the summer, which marks a 21.47% decrease from that reported £56million wage budget for the 2018/19 season. As well as that, O’Neill was able to replace some outgoing names with younger ones – the likes of Sam Surridge and Ben Wilmot both came in and have fitted into the side neatly, with Mario Vrancic also proving a shrewd addition.

Again, the urgency in which Stoke City looked to have about them in terms of outgoings over the summer suggested that the club knew they were atop of a slope that so many clubs now lower down in the Football League had previously found themselves. But they’ve come out of that frantic summer and put what was a torrid last season behind them to start this one with much more optimism and belief that they can be contenders in the Championship this season.

There were definite question marks raised about O’Neill last time round. Now that he’s had more time to create his own side though, the Potters are reaping the rewards – they sit in 5th-place of the Championship table after the opening seven games of the season, having claimed some impressive wins from some equally impressive attacking displays. In fairness, Stoke haven’t had the toughest run of fixtures to start the campaign but nevertheless, they’re winning games that they should be and games that last season they would arguably have dropped points in, so the signs of progression are there for all to see.

O’Neill has brought Stoke City into the new era. Gone is the old Stoke stereotype of bland football infused by the likes of Tony Pulis before – Stoke play exciting, neat, attacking football under O’Neill and they have a lot of impressive younger players coming through, all of which making for a sustainable bid for promotion. There’s a long way to go to get Stoke City back on the Premier League map but after some seasons of decline, O’Neill’s Potters are pottering about the new season nicely.