The pressure was now on Mick Mills after four seasons without a serious promotion challenge and he spent big in the summer with £1 million worth of talent arriving at the Victoria Ground. However Stoke's overall performances left a lot to be desired and after failing to gain a victory until their 12th match Stoke hit the bottom of the table. With no improvement Mills paid the price and was sacked in November with former World Cup winner Alan Ball taking charge. Ball was unable to stop the slide into the third tier for only the second time in the club's history.
After four seasons of mid-table finishes manager Mick Mills spent big to turn Stoke into a side capable of gaining promotion to the First Division. He spent good money, breaking the club's record transfer of £480,000 for Sheffield Wednesday defender Ian Cranson, £75,000 on Derek Statham from West Bromwich Albion, £175,000 for Ian Scott and £250,000 for Wayne Biggins both from Manchester City. All four started the first match of the season in a 1–1 draw at home to West Ham United in front of an expectant crowd of 16,058. The teams's overall displays, however, left a lot to be desired and favourable results proved elusive, Stoke failing to win in their first 11 matches.
It was a big gamble by Ball to change the squad around so much so quickly and it did not pay off, Stoke staying rooted to the bottom of the table and they subsequently fell through the trap door into the Third Division for the first time since 1927. Stoke won only six of their 46 matches and scored just 35 goals, Biggins getting 10. There were few bright spots during a dismal season which saw the Potteries derby make a return, 27,032 saw Stoke and Vale draw 1–1 on 23 September and at Vale Park 22,075 saw a dull 0–0 on 3 February.
After beating First Division Millwall 1–0 in the first leg Stoke lost the second leg 2–0 with some controversial referring decisions going against Stoke which led to Mick Mills having to be restrained on the touchline.