Final blues, but still proud of the mighty Potters
Stoke failed at the final hurdle yesterday with a 1-0 defeat against the blue half of Manchester, but the 27,000+ Stokies gave their all for their team and that left me feeling really proud.
Whilst the team might not have lived up to expectations on the pitch, there's no doubt that the Stokies more than stood up to the task of countering the Blues' fans over in the west end of Wembley.
We sung and cheered our team on right to the fruitless, cup-less end in what was, for many of us, our first experience of actually being at an FA Cup Final. There's no doubt that it was a great spectacle with the band of the Scots Guards, that Dagenham lass (Stacey from X-Factor) warbling through the national anthem and pictures of the Potters' greats - current and past - laid out on the pitch.
Before the match I'd been worried about the team having some Wembley nerves, but hoped that we'd have shrugged those off after that mighty win over Bolton as this was a game in which we needed to be at least as good as we were against Arsenal last Sunday. As it was, we looked slow and second rate compared to the Man City side who dominated the vast majority of the game. Matty Etherington and Robert Huth started, which sent a buzz of expectation around the east end but it was soon clear that neither was fully fit and, with the benefit of hindsight, would have been better off sitting it out on the bench.
Thomas Sorensen made some fine saves and, together with a little bit of luck, we manged to hold it to 0-0 well into the second half. Kenwyne Jones might even have nicked a goal, but was denied by Hart spreading his arms and legs in front of him. On better days, you'd have expected Jones to easily tuck it past the keeper, but that was the best we really offered. Jermaine Pennant played a blinder, but with Matty being of little use on the other wing and Jon Walters off his best there was few outlets for him to feed.
We'd already accepted our fate by the final whistle and you could see the heartache being suffered by both players and fans alike. Unlike many losing teams of recent years, it was fantastic to see the vast majority of Stokies remain well after the final whistle to applaud our team and Tony Pulis, but it was still heartbreaking when Ryan Shawcross and the team trudged up those famous stairs to receive their runners-up medals.
It's never good to see your team lose a game like that, especially when you know they could have played better, but there can be no fans prouder of what we've achieved this season. The two halves of Manchester may have captured all the glory - but that's what's expected of them by both their owners and supporters. There will not have been many Stoke fans who would have dared to predict at the start of the season that by the middle of May we'd be at our first ever FA Cup final, have earned our first ever crack at the Europa League and sitting in 8th place in the Premier League with two games to go.
Yes, I'm bitterly disappointed that we didn't win but I'm also so proud of the team, Tony Pulis and Peter Coates for giving us the chance to ride this dream....