Rotherham United boss Paul Warne believes Stoke City have found out just how unforgiving the Championship can be during the early stages of the season.
The Millers and the Potters go into Saturday evening’s televised clash at the AESSEAL New York Stadium level on nine points in the table.
But while Rotherham were expected to be battling for their lives following promotion from League One last term, Stoke appeared well set for a return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Gary Rowett kept hold of his star players and splashed the cash this summer following top-flight relegation, but they have found the going tough so far.
Stoke have won only two of their nine league fixtures and are already nine points off pace-setters Leeds.
“I just think the league, at the moment, everyone is beating everyone,” Warne said.
“That is the way it is this season. There is some outstanding campaigners. It is a really difficult league to get wins in, it is a tough ask. All teams are finding that hard.
“I think after this window the league starts to take shape, you see who you are competing with, at the bottom or the top.”
Despite having experienced personnel such as Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Ashley Williams in front of goalkeeper Jack Butland, Stoke have struggled defensively.
They have conceded 16 goals in nine matches, only two less than bottom-of-the-table Preston.
Nine of those have come away from home and Warne is hoping to take advantage of City’s troubles at the back.
“I think in parts of games they are excellent, but they probably are not as defensively sound as they wish, from the start to the end of the game, and probably had dips through the games,” he said.
Joe Newell is set to provide Warne with a boost ahead of the Stoke clash.
The left-sided player has made only five appearances this season, the last of which came in the Carabao Cup defeat at Everton a month ago, due to injury.
But he has now returned to full fitness to leave Warne delighted.
“It is good news,” he added. “Joe was pretty instrumental last season, but he has had a bit of a staggered start with a groin issue.
“But this is really the first full week of training where he is pain free. He has looked pretty outstanding in training so it will be nice to see him on the grass.”