Stoke fans' frustration with Mark Hughes in underwhelming season

Stoke City's 3-1 win Saturday over Hull City was a welcome return to winning ways, but it was a far from straightforward victory for Mark Hughes and his players amid significant unrest in the stands.

A poor 16 months of form has seen many of the home crowd turn against the manager and tensions were palpably high at the bet365 Stadium ahead of the game. There were plenty of empty seats courtesy of those who have simply had enough, and the supporters who did attend left Hughes under no illusion as to the levels of their current frustration.

It was more chopping and changing in tactics and selection from the manager, and the decision to remove Saido Berahino -- who was having a good game -- and replace him with Peter Crouch was one that was met with a chorus of boos. As luck would have it, it was a change that paid dividends with the big man getting on the end of a cross from fellow substitute Jon Walters to put his side ahead.

Some have pointed to the fact that the changes derided so vociferously from the fans ended up being the right ones, but that would be missing the point. Since his arrival in the Potteries, Hughes has spent considerable sums of money reshaping the squad left to him by fellow countryman Tony Pulis, yet it is his predecessor's strikers who are turned to the most.

Yes, Crouch and Walters combined to excellent effect to help secure three points, but they weren't the answer under Pulis and they certainly aren't today, either. The fact that it is the old guard who have been most trusted in the hour of need puts a significant spotlight on the attacking signings made during the last three years.

Spanish starlet Bojan Krkic was the poster boy for New Stoke, but he currently finds himself farmed out on loan along with another forward in Joselu Mato. Meanwhile, Mame Diouf is on the bench. He scored more in his maiden season than any other striker on the books has managed in the same timeframe, yet he rarely features as a front man. That's not to mention Wilfried Bony, brought in on loan at considerable cost who last featured in December 2016, nor £18 million record-signing Giannelli Imbula, who is often left out of the squad altogether.

The shotgun approach to transfers and tactics is the real crux of the issue, and news of extended deals for two of the squad's aging stars -- Charlie Adam and Glen Johnson -- at a time when youth and energy is desperately needed has done little to halt the swell of supporter unrest.

The fact that the Potters are still within a shout of a top-half finish is nothing short of miraculous, and any such conclusion could well buy the manager some grace from the chairman as he assesses the success or otherwise of his club's latest campaign.

The focus for now then would appear to be on finishing the season as strongly as possible, and that means securing three points from another relegation-haunted team on Saturday: Swansea. They were a side who enjoyed a decent bounce in form following the arrival of new manager Paul Clement, but one who have slipped back into the mire of late.

In terms of team selection for Stoke, the two constants that not even Hughes can deny are Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri, who starred in the last game to drag the side toward victory.

Individually and collectively they possess a rare quality in the final third, and their inclusion for the run-in is a must if the side are to make the most of what is left of the campaign. Elsewhere on the pitch, a cameo from Marc Muniesa in midfield against Hull will give the manager food for thought amid losses in that area of the pitch through illness and injury. However, Hughes might instead choose to start the Spaniard in place of the disappointing Erik Pieters at left back.

Thankfully there isn't too much riding on this particular fixture, and the club's flirtation with relegation was a brief one, which should lift some of the weight off the players' shoulders. A win should not be a big ask at all, but the side's habit of making hard work of light tasks is also one that is not to be underestimated.