Stoke City defender Danny Batth reflects on last season’s relegation battle and looks ahead to the new season with the Potters.
One of the most exciting ends to a Sky Bet Championship season saw a number of clubs battle it out to stay in the division, and with just one month of the season remaining, Stoke City were one of them.
Following a 3-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic, Michael O’Neill’s side found themselves in the bottom three, facing the prospect of life in Sky Bet League One next season.
However, O’Neill oversaw four wins and a draw in the final six games, to ultimately finish 15th as Stoke put in a string of impressive performances to ensure Championship status in 2020/21. One person at the heart of those performances was defender Danny Batth, who influenced results at both ends of the pitch, and under Michael O’Neill, Potters fans have reason to be optimistic about the club’s future heading into the 2020/21 season.
As players return for pre-season and attention turns to the 2020/21 campaign, we caught up with the defender to discuss life in lockdown, escaping relegation, the Michael O’Neill effect and hopes for next season.
Danny Batth on…
Volunteering in lockdown…
“I run a foundation called Foundation DB and we just try to help out where we can, as best we can. We know we’ve been going through a huge crisis and we noticed at the start especially, a few doctors and nurses were struggling to get food at the end of a long shift so we just wanted to bag up some food parcels for them.
"We did it in my garage actually, we bagged up pasta, rice and all the essentials and took it to our local hospital. I think we did about 250 food parcels, which was warmly received by the staff there. Everyone has done their bit in their own way recently, and it was just nice for us to be able to help in an area we thought we could have an impact.
“At times like this you see how essential and vital football clubs are to their communities. Everyone was waiting to see what the football community was going to do; what the players were going to do, what the clubs were going to do and all of a sudden we just saw a wave of different people and different outlets coming together, doing as much as they could to rally round and support those that needed it. At the end of the day, a lot of the doctors and nurses are fans and probably support the club, so we wanted to help them as much as possible."
On returning for pre-season…
“It’s just another challenge for us. On the back of having ten weeks off during lockdown, competitively anyway, we came back into a really intense period of games which were massive for the club and for our squad. When the season ended, we had a couple of weeks off which was gone in the blink of an eye and now we’re back training again and it’s good to be looking ahead to next season.
“It’s not too bad in terms of a pre-season because it’s obviously off the back of just a two-week break. So we’re doing a lot of tactical and technical work, getting all the lads back up to speed and trying to improve and learn as much as we can going into next season.”
On Stoke City's performances last season…
“I think to say we had a slow start would be putting it very mildly. We didn’t start the season well at all, and from that the only way forward was to improve. We saw with the new manager coming in the response from the lads in the performances. Things gradually started to improve, but we were bottom of the table and things did need to change and a reaction from the team was needed, but I think we got that in the end and I do think that the fans warmed to the squad we had - there were some really good performances in there and some positive results to go with that as well.
"Unfortunately though, that was all off the back of giving ourselves a mountain to climb, so we certainly won’t be celebrating last season too much, it was just a matter of getting over the line in the end and obviously we finished quite strongly so we can take the positives from that and take that confidence into this season.”
On the relegation battle in the Championship…
“There were just so many twists and turns every week. We knew among ourselves that we just had to try and win the next game. We had the belief within the squad that we were good enough to survive and we had the belief that we could stay up, but obviously the squad wants to be looking up, not down and that’s where we are as a club - we’ve got to be looking up. So I think last season was a case of lessons learned and now we have to try and move forward and look ahead to next season in a more positive manner.”
On Stoke’s form after the restart…
“I think a large part of that was the hard work that went on when we were in lockdown. I think the lads all knew that they needed to come back with a high level of fitness, we needed to be ready to play games regularly; ready for that intensity of competition and ready to showcase the best of us and what we had to offer.
"The manager did a good job in making sure he picked the right team each time we played and the lads were refreshed and ready to go in each game as well.”
On past relegation experiences…
“When I was a young player coming through at Wolves, we got relegated for the second time in two seasons. I didn’t play too much of a part in it, I was more on the outside looking in, but I learnt a lot from that experience.
"I actually reflected on that a few times during this period with Stoke, because I wanted to make it different this time. A lot of the differences for me were just concentrating on playing the game in front of us and not worrying too much about the results around us either. It was also important to not get too down if the results didn’t go our way. There are plenty of games in the Championship to get enough results needed to stay up, games come so quickly and for me that was important.
“I also wanted to make sure that the lads gave their best in every game, but weren’t too upset or down when we did get a bad result, because it’s all about where you finish and I do believe that you can always turn things around in this league.
"It was especially important with the younger lads, I wanted to lead by example as best I could, I wanted to try and stay positive throughout and I felt it was important for me to put an arm around anyone who was feeling down after a bad result. And then on the pitch, I just wanted to make sure everyone understood how important it was to get a result.”
On his personal form after the restart...
“I was really determined all the way through lockdown to make sure whatever happens - relegation or survival - that I had no excuses come the end of the seas, and I was obviously very pleased with mine and the team’s performances in the latter stages of the season.
"Goals are always a bonus for me, but really it was just about the results. The lads really performed when it mattered and got comfortable results which set us on our way to safety. I just tried to do my best for the team and fortunately, that was good enough for us.”
On the 4-1 win over Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season…
“To be honest, I didn't know what was at stake! We weren’t aware of how close it was goal difference wise. I spoke to a friend of mine at Swansea City and he messaged me saying ‘hopefully you can win by a big margin today’ ahead of the Forest game, so I said ‘yeah, I’ll do my best!’
“The game just took a massive swing. I remember seeing the reaction towards the end of the game from the Forest players and I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the result because I didn’t know the Swansea score. It was an incredible game to end on, but from our point of view it was also nice not to be going into that game needing a result or a big win. It was probably the first game in nine or ten months that we went into with no pressure, which was certainly enjoyable from our side.”
On the competitiveness and unpredictability of the 2019/20 Championship season…
“I think you saw a complete mix of styles and squads this season just gone. Every club approached games differently, there was some great talent on display and I think it showed more than ever that every football club plays differently and there’s no right or wrong answer to success.
"It’s about creating that winning mentality and having a good, organised team that knows exactly what to do to get results. Hopefully we can build towards that here at Stoke."
On the impact of Michael O’Neill as manager…
“I know a few lads that played under the manager at Northern Ireland and they spoke very highly of him coming in. They told me what a good manager he is, said he’d get us playing football and get us the results we needed, which he has done. That was good enough for me and we’ve seen it first hand during the games we’ve played recently.
"When decisions needed to be made, he made the right ones and with that came the results we needed to stay up, so it will definitely be nice to spend a few weeks now preparing for the new season, training, developing and learning as much as we can as a side.
"It’ll be the first time the manager has really had proper time to work with us in a pre-season and put his stamp on the team, giving us the identity he wants, so we’ll be all ears trying to pick up and deliver all of that.”
On what’s needed from Stoke to be able to challenge next season…
“High standards are important. Fitness levels at this level are really important, that goes without saying, but just team continuity really. It’s important that everyone knows what their job is, it’s important that everyone is on the same page because that’s what you fall back on.
"If you’re having an off day, bouncing back depends how good you are as a team and how good you are as a collective, so trying to incorporate all of that into our season is massive for us. From a personal perspective, I just want to try and pick up where I left off really and try to play as many games as I can.”
On carrying momentum and togetherness into next season…
“All players will be targeting the first game and getting a result on that opening weekend, no doubt about that. Hopefully we’ll see the benefit of our forwards not having so much pressure on them, with every chance being absolutely vital to survival, they can go out there and create chances and the same goes for the lads at the back.
"We want to be able to go into a game with the mentality of playing with intensity, but relaxed and calm at the same time when on the ball. So hopefully we see that on the pitch and it translates into results for us.”
On the new teams in the Championship next season…
“That’s what the Championship is all about. You’ve got players that have been playing at the top end of the Premier League dropping down, so it’s a different challenge for them. And at the same time you’ve got players going up into the Championship for the first time. You look at Wycombe’s story and it’s just brilliant, there’s no doubt that they’ll add to the division and it’ll be as competitive as ever I’m sure.
“Every game is a different challenge, every game is unique, no one is ever really sure what to expect, but that’s what we love about the division and that’s what the challenge is ahead of us, so we look forward to that."