IT WAS Leed United’s bad luck that they should come to the Victoria Ground four days before Christmas in 1986. Bad luck because Stoke were blazing their way up the table, part the way through a storming run that would eventually propel them all the way from rock bottom to 4th place in the space of just ten weeks. From a team that couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo from two paces in August, September and October, Mick Mills’s side were now a fearsome attacking force, ready to dish out a savage beating to any team unlucky enough to catch them on a good day.
Not that Leeds were at all worried when they visited the Victoria Ground on Sunday 21st December. We were still in a lower mid-table position and they were just a couple of points outside the play-off places. A victory would strengthen their own promotion credentials and they had already beaten us at Elland Road early on in the season.
For one Leeds player – goalkeeper Mervyn Day (pictured below) – there was a point to prove as well. The season before he and his Leeds team had come to Stoke and been walloped 6-2 as Mark Chamberlain had run amok. This time they wanted revenge and Day went so far as to promise that Stoke would not score six goals this time around…
The Sunday dinner time kick-off and all-ticket restrictions – demanded by the Police – kept the crowd down to just 12,358, but the atmosphere was still electric as Stoke fans anticipated another entertaining game. We did though have no idea of just how entertaining the game would prove to be.
It was all Stoke from the word go and Leeds were left breathless and chasing shadows as The Potters simply bypassed their defence at will. Nicky Morgan had been a revelation following his arrival from Portsmouth a few weeks earlier and he was on the scoresheet after only five minutes as he drilled the ball home from inside the area to make it 1-0 to Stoke.
Scarcely had Leeds had time to recompose themselves than they were 2-0 down. This time it was Carl Saunders seizing on a loose ball to score with a sweet finish. We can only wonder at this stage if Mervyn Day was remembering his less than prophetic words to the press ahead of the game!
Stoke’s pressure was utterly unrelenting and merciless and the Leeds players looked as shell-shocked and bewildered as their 1,500+ supporters as the barrage continued at the Stoke End.
From a dead ball situation the ball looped behind Lee Dixon inside the area and he stunned the entire crowd with a breathtaking overhead kick to send the ball sailing over Day and into the far corner of the net. It was 3-0 to Stoke and there were only 20 minutes on the clock!
At this point many teams would take their foot off the pedal and start to stroll, or at least showboat, but that was not what Mick Mills’ side did. With players like Dixon, Parkin, Ford, Kelly, Morgan, Saunders and Heath all in superb form we almost couldn’t help but play killer football.
Any hopes that Leeds had of making it into the half-time interval with their dignity and a fighting chance of a recovery intact were to be blown away as Stoke finished the game off before 45 minutes were up on the clock.
Nicky Morgan drilled home another shot from inside the box to make it 4-0 and then just a minute before the break Tony ‘Zico’ Kelly curled home a peach of a free-kick from 25 yards to make the score a scarcely believable 5-0 as the teams left the field for their half-time cuppas.
To be on the Boothen End and down on the concourse when that whistle went was to witness a collective state of disbelief amongst a sea of happy faces and hoarse voices.
As delighted as we all were, the breathtaking, non-stop nature of Stoke’s football and the FIVE mentals we’d celebrated had taken it out of us. This might be the only occasion in the history of our club where the supporters were more shattered than the players at half-time!
We all prepared ourselves for what was sure to be a much calmer second half, but were in for another 45 minutes of non-stop action. Stoke came roaring back at Leeds straight from the re-start and it was only the award of a generous penalty for the visitors, from a referee who was by now taking pity on them, which gave them some respite as John Sheridan made it 5-1.
Mervyn Day might have been keeping his fingers crossed that he would avoid the embarrassment of conceding six for the second season running but his hopes were crushed just after the hour mark. Stoke’s attacks were just relentless and when the ball ran for Tony Ford inside the box he hammered home in front of the Boothen End to make it 6-1.
But Day had promised it wouldn’t be six-goal scoreline this time around and he was proved right after 72 minutes as Stoke surged forward again and Nicky Morgan smashed the ball home to complete his hat-trick and make it 7-1.
We were actually still celebrating that goal when Leeds caught us out straight from the kick-off as Ian Baird went up to the Stoke End and made it 7-2 in front of their own fans who, by this time, had gone into their “we’re not bothered anymore” pissing around antics.
That would actually prove to be the final score but don’t think for one minute that Stoke actually sat back and coasted for the last 20 minutes. They carried on attacking until the very last minute, especially as substitute Keith Bertschin was desperate to get his name onto the scoresheet as well.
An eighth goal just wouldn’t come though. Day made some decent saves, a couple were cleared off the line (including one quite clearly with the use of an arm) and we had two cast-iron penalty appeals turned down. It finished 7-2 but it could, and perhaps should, have been eight, nine or even TEN!
It’s hard to remember such an ovation as the one which greeted the final whistle of this match. The players didn’t milk the victory as much as they tend to these days but even so they had to acknowledge the adulation of a Stoke support that could scarcely believe what it had just witnessed.
You walked out of the Victoria Ground that day as though you were floating – privileged to have witnessed such an awesome display of football and finishing from a Stoke City team. It’s hard to recall a day similar to this when we had done EVERYTHING right for an entire 90 minutes.
Some Stoke fans will claim that they actually enjoyed the previous year’s 6-2 win more than his one, perhaps because it was our second home game after the dreadful ‘Holocaust’ season or maybe because of the stunning individual performance of Mark Chamberlain at his very best?
In my mind though this was the one. Leeds were a good team in 1986/87 and would go on to make the Play Offs and FA Cup Semi-Final come the end of the season, unlike the year before when they’d finished in lower mid-table, yet Stoke had simply ripped them to shreds and stripped them of any excuses whatsoever.
Stoke City: Fox; Dixon, Parkin; Talbot, Bould, Berry; Ford, Kelly (Bertschin), Morgan, Saunders, Heath.
Leeds United: Day, Aspin, Robinson (Ritchie); Thompson, Ashurst, Swan; Doig, Sheridan, Baird, Edwards, Rennie.
From Issue 367