In June 1949 Stoke legend Freddie Steele left the club after spending 17 years with the club scoring 159 goals. And Stoke failed to find a suitable replacement and struggled throughout the season and ended up in a relegation battle. There was no end of season improvement in results and Stoke only stayed up due to the poor form of the relegated bottom two Birmingham City and Manchester City.
Franklin re-signed for the club in time for the 1949–50 season and his presence bolstered the defence whilst the forward line was struggling. By the end of October Stoke had just two wins to their name and were in deep relegation trouble so McGrory smashed the clubs transfer record by paying £9,000 to Celtic for Leslie Johnston. However whilst Johnston was a fine footballer in Scotland he was not really up to the standard in English football and although he scored 22 goals in 92 games he was not the right player for the number 9 shirt. On 15 October Frank Baker broke his leg for the fifth time in two years and he decided to retire.
By January there had been a modest improvement in performances out on the pitch and McGrory made his best signing for some time, persuading Freddie Steele who was now player-manager at Mansfield to part with young up and coming forward Harry Oscroft, Stoke handing over £8,000 plus Verdi Godwin who scored just twice in 23 matches. Soon after Oscroft's arrival, Stoke's defence started to leak goals and FA Cup finalists Arsenal put six past them at Highbury without a Stoke reply. Stoke managed just three points from their remaining eight matches this season and narrowly avoided relegation.