IT WAS a day to remember for Stoke City in north London as The Potters secured their first away win of the season and recorded without doubt their best result since promotion to the Premier League, with this wonderful victory at White Hart Lane. The Potters were magnificent and thoroughly deserved their three points.
There was a big shock for the travelling Stokies as Steve Simonsen took his place between the sticks following Thomas Sorenson’s late withdrawal due to illness. Robert Huth’s three match ban meant a return to the side for Andy Wilkinson, but otherwise it was the same team which had overcome West Ham, with Salfi Diao and Dean Whitehead resuming their midfield partnership. Jermaine Defoe’s absence from the Tottenham team was certainly good news for us, but Harry Redknapp was still able to call on a team featuring a host of top class internationals for a game that would see them go to the top of the Premier League with a victory.
Memories of last season’s traumatic trip to Tottenham, when we found ourselves three goals down inside the first twenty minutes, were still very fresh, but The Potters almost made a dream start to the game when James Beattie was just inches away from meeting Matty Etherington’s cross-cum-shot, only to be denied at the last moment by a very brave piece of defending by Jonathon Woodgate.
The unfortunate Woodgate would soon be forced to leave the field, presumably suffering from concussion as a result of that incident, but it didn’t affect his team unduly and they hit back with a real purpose which suggested that we could be in for another uncomfortable afternoon in the capital. Simmo had to be at his best to deny both Crouch and Lennon, before the diminutive England winger teased Danny Collins before floating over a cross which Crouch met superbly to head what everybody inside White Hart Lane thought was the opening goal of the afternoon. Quite where James Beattie appeared from is anyone’s guess, but our striker somehow managed to miraculously clear the ball off the line with an unbelievable acrobatic clearance to keep the scores level.
Still Tottenham came back at us and were very close to taking the lead just seconds later when Nico Kranjcar played a one-two with Crouch before hammering a thumping right foot shot which clattered back off Simmo’s right hand post.
Stoke were finding it very difficult to repel the Tottenham assault, though Ricardo Fuller managed to find himself half a yard inside the Spurs area but could only volley his shot high and wide of Gomes’ goal.
The Potters were still on the defensive as the second half got underway and Whitehead and Shawcross combined brilliantly to deny Crouch a simple tap in after Simmo could only parry Keane’s shot.
Simmo was then relieved to gather the ball after being impeded by Beattie as he stopped another Crouch effort, before TP decided to change things, withdrawing a tired looking Rory Delap to bring on Glenn Whelan.
Whelan was soon in the action and received a yellow card for a foul on Lennon which saw the Spurs winger limp from the field and leave Spurs with just ten players having used all three substitutes. The Potters were gradually beginning to impose themselves on the game and Beattie headed just wide before being replaced by Tuncay who certainly added an extra dimension to our play.
The Turkish striker was soon into the action scuffing one shot straight at Gomes before side-stepping a Spurs defender and hitting a left foot shot just wide.
The home side were, by now, running out of ideas a little, and were incurring the wrath of the home supporters with their continual tactic of hitting the ball long for the giant Crouch. Stoke were dealing with it admirably though and with Matty Etherington in particular enjoying a second wind, we dared to dream that a shock win could actually be on the cards.
And sure enough the goal that would win us the game came with just four minutes left on the clock. A nice bout of passing saw the ball end up at the feet of Ricardo Fuller some fifty yards from goal. Ricardo worked his magic down the right wing, before bursting brilliantly past Assou-Ekotto on the byeline and laying the ball nicely into the path of Glenn Whelan who smashed a wonderful right foot shot past Gomes and in off the post.
Stoke’s team and supporters celebrated in some style, but we’ve been in this position before and knew full well that our job wasn’t done, especially when the fourth official held up his board to signal five minutes of injury time. Tuncay could have sealed the victory but annoyingly strayed offside as Etherington played in him, then we were forced to hold our breath as Salif Diao put in a challenge on Kranjcar in the penalty area deep into stoppage time. The Spurs fans bayed for a penalty, but referee Probert waved away the home team’s appeals and the three points were ours.
What better way to finish this match report than with the words of Alan Hansen on last week’s Match of the Day?
“Stoke gave an exhibition of togetherness, teamwork, team spirit, and a dogged determination and willingness to win that was absolutely sensational. Tony Pulis must be a proud manager tonight because that’s one of the great performances of the season”.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!
Stoke City Team: Simonsen, Wilkinson, Collins, Faye, Shawcross, Delap, Whitehead, Diao, Etherington, Fuller, Beattie. Subs: Whelan, Tuncay, Higginbotham.
This match report originally appeared in Issue 466 of The Oatcake