WE WAITED a long time for this day, a very long time indeed. And we earned it too. After all of the bad days over 23 years, all the disappointments, all of the humbling defeats against the likes of Crewe and Vale and all of the other clubs we should never really have been playing so regularly in the first place.
Top flight football returned to the Britannia Stadium and did so in spectacular style, delivering a match, occasion and finale that will live long in the memory of all of those Stoke City supporters who were fortunate enough to be there to witness it. This is what we had waited all of that time for, what we endured all of that suffering for.
After the slap-in-the-face defeat at Bolton it was difficult to hope for too much from a game against a side so strongly tipped and widely respected as Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa. However, in the wake of the Reebok set-back Tony Pulis had been quick to address some of our shortcomings and we had new faces in the line-up, in the shape of Amdy and Abdoulaye Faye, plus the return to the starting XI of crowd favourites Ricardo Fuller and Liam Lawrence.
From the word go it was clear that The Potters were not nursing any hangovers from the Bolton defeat. It had been put behind them and they went into this match in the right frame of mind and with exactly the right approach. They took the game to the visitors and displayed no fear of either their opponents or the big occasion.
What a delight it was to not only be watching top flight football but to be watching Stoke competing well at that level. Villa were technically better than us and that was only to be expected but at no time did we ever looked over-matched or out of our depth. In fact we quickly showed that we had within our arsenal the type of weapons which could do our opponents harm.
Fuller and Lawrence were creative and in Rory Delap’s long throws we had a tool to cause panic in the visiting defence. In fact, we should have taken the lead when one of Delap’s efforts was propelled into the box and picked out Amdy Faye for a header which should have been dispatched into the net for a debut goal.
We didn’t have long to wait for a goal though as referee Mark Halsey turned down an appeal for a penalty at our end and then awarded one at the other when Delap was felled. Lawrence stepped up to drill the ball home and the Britannia Stadium exploded. I honestly thought the roof was going to lift off the place.the ball home and the Britannia Stadium exploded. I honestly thought the roof was going to lift off the place.
You could have almost ended my Premiership experience there if you’d wanted. Stoke were back in the top flight and leading in a game against a genuinely good side. I think back of dark trips to Bournemouth when such a possibility seemed such a distant and unlikely prospect.
As much as Stoke are derided for their style of play it has to be said that this game was an entertaining thriller which would have graced ANY Super Sunday special on Sky. It had just about everything!
Villa capitalised on Stoke’s failure to clear the ball properly with a goal of genuine quality from John Carew and then almost took the lead when Barry failed to connect with a ball straight across the face of the Stoke goal.
If Carew’s goal had the hallmark of class stamped across it then what can you say about the gem that followed from Fuller? His flick and turn to take Lawrence’s pass past Laursen was just brilliant and got the finish it deserved as our Jamaican Magician drilled the ball into the far corner of the net. Will we see a better Stoke goal this season?
That should have been enough to win the game but a carelessly conceded free-kick by Diao gave the visitors the chance to get the ball into our box and after a weakly hit shot and a fortuitous deflection Laursen was able to poke the ball home for what looked like a point-saving goal for Villa.
In truth, how many of us would truly have been disappointed with a 2-2 draw? Yeah, we’d know that we’d let two leads slips, the second just eight minutes from time, but it would have still been a very creditable outcome.
Stoke though were not prepared to settle for a point and put Villa through a bombardment of late pressure. A couple of late throws from Delap came to nothing, including a header from Cort which looped onto the top of the net, before the final attack of the match, in the 4th minute of injury time, he launched one final missile into the area and super sub Sidibe back headed the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
It was the greatest EVER mental at the Britannia Stadium, as players and fans alike celebrated what we all knew was the winner. You just live for moments like these!
What a day, what a game and what a finish. We have some really tough days ahead of us this season but we showed here that we have the spirit and the belief to make a real fight of it.
I don’t think I will ever forget this game!
STOKE CITY: Sorenson, Griffin, Dickinson, Cort, Ab Faye, Lawrence, Am Faye, Olofinjana, Delap, Fuller, Kitson. Subs: Diao, Sidibe, Cresswell.
ASTON VILLA: Friedel, L. Young, Davies, Laursen, Shorey, A. Young, Petrov, Barry, Re0-Coker, Carew, Agbonlahor. Sub: Routledge.
This match report originally appeared in Issue 443 of The Oatcake