Sunday marks the 20th Anniversary of our Second Division Championship clinching victory against Plymouth Argyle at the Victoria Ground. Here is the match report from that game which appeared in Issue 79 of The Oatcake:
WELL here it was at last, the chance we’d been waiting for. Our destiny was entirely in our own hands – it didn’t matter who did what elsewhere, as long as we won this match then we would be promoted as Champions. You could put away your calculators and stop permuting what, ifs and buts from other teams and watch the match knowing that tonight we could do it, we could achieve something that seemed only a distant dream in those black, depressing days at the end of the Ball/Paddon era. If any good omens were needed then I was informed of a good one just before kick-off when somebody informed me that it was three years to the day since our never to be forgotten relegation celebration at Brighton in 1990 when over 3,000 Stoke fans showed that they would stick with the club no matter what, a day when we pledged that we would be back (okay it took a year or two longer than expected, but we kept out promise).
Plymouth’s recent form had been erratic to say the least. A 3-0 home defeat against Exeter had been followed by a 5—2 win at West Bros (still can’t stop giggling at that one) and a victory against Brighton, two results which had been followed in turn by a home defeat to the Vale. It was nice to see Peter Shilton being given a rousing reception as he ran to the Boothen End just prior to kick-off, though I’m not so sure that everybody would have been so sporting after that if Plymouth had taken the lead, as they nearly did with the game only three minutes old. A good one-two out on the wing allowed a Plymouth player plenty of space to get in a telling cross. His centre eluded all of the Stoke defenders and found its way to the unmarked Warren Joyce some 7 or 8 yards out from goal. He placed his header inside the near post only to be denied by a spectacular flying save from Peter Fox; even then the danger was not removed, as the ball fell to Joyce who this time fired in a shot from close range which miraculously Foxy managed to save as well as he was getting back up. It was a truly brilliant piece of goalkeeping from Foxy and they must rate as two of the best saves of his career, they were certainly the two most important!
Just how important those saves had been became even clearer just sixty seconds later when the Victoria Ground exploded with joy. Shawry nicked the ball past a defender and into the area, before looking up and playing a pass into Foghorn’s path. We watched in delight as our number six evaded one tackle before crashing the ball into the roof of the net. A never to be forgotten moment and a never to be forgotten mental! We could have made it 2—0 a couple of minutes later but T.G.O. elected to shoot, missing the target in the process, when a square pass to the unmarked Paul Ware would probably have yielded a more profitable return. Still, when a striker’s confident he has a go at those chances and we don’t moan when they fly in.
After a ten minute period when we looked well in control, our visitors began to enjoy more and more of the possession. In fact to such a degree that we found ourselves pinned back into our own half for most of the opening period, rarely threatening Shilton’s goal – Foxy was far the busier of the two ‘keepers. We needed the half-time break to get our composure back and for Lou to sort out any tactical changes that he thought necessary. But it was to little avail as Plymouth continued to dominate, territorially at least, in the second half. In truth Stoke allowed themselves to get a bit anxious and panicky during that second half, often just thumping the ball up the field to relieve the pressure. We could count our blessings that Plymouth lacked that killer instinct up front, but we still had to be wary as with the amount of possession they were enjoying the Pilgrims were always likely to snatch something.
We needed to make a move to relieve the pressure off us and thankfully Lou was only too aware of this as he made the substitution that probably clinched the game for us, bringing on the eager Rooster for Warey about twenty-odd minutes from the end. The introduction of our popular wide man gave us that extra dimension on the pitch as he was able to take the ball into their half of the field, thus relieving the pressure on our over-worked defenders. Indeed Rooster set up a chance that almost gave us an unassailable two goal lead. His deft footwork inside Plymouth’s area gave him the chance to chip the ball to the far post where Foghorn rose highest to get in a header. Unfortunately his effort just lacked enough power allowing Shilton the chance to get across and make a smart save.
As in the first half Foxy was the busier of the two men between the sticks and was called on several times to kick the ball clear or make important claims inside the area. He did all of these tasks perfectly, proving himself to be a rock at the back when we needed him most. There was one moment of anxiety when he allowed the ball to go across him to get it on his favoured right foot. Though Foxy knew exactly what he was doing one or two Boothen Enders had a panic attack and somebody must have said something stupid because he turned around after clearing the ball and showed what he thought of his critics: Don’t worry Foxy it was only a few people letting the tension get to them.
The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough and after playing a couple of minutes of stoppage time the referee finally put us out of our misery by blowing for full—time. In doing so he signalled just about the best pitch—invasion the Victoria Ground has ever seen. Supporters danced about and hugged each other, both on the pitch and on the terraces, the sheer emotion of the occasion got the better of all of us. I don’t know if I am alone in thinking this, but as far as I’m concerned this was better than Wembley last season — it just meant more!
Stoke City: Fox, Butler, Sandford, Cranson, Overson, Gleghorn, Foley, Kevan, Ware, Shaw, Stein. Subs: Russell. Regis