Stoke aiming for Prem
19th April 2008
Mamady Sidibe ensured that 23,000 Stoke fans were able to celebrate one giant step towards the Premier League with a well deserved victory over fellow promotion contenders, Bristol City.
Although last week's victory against Coventry kept the Potters in the chase, whoever was victorious in this top of the table clash would become favourites to take an automatic promotion place after Hull had fallen by the wayside at Sheffield United.
Tony Pulis had the luxury of being able to field virtually a first choice team. Carl Dickinson came in for the injured Andy Griffin alongside Ryan Shawcross, Liam Lawrence was brought back to midfield with Glenn Whelan returning from illness, Big Mama and Ricardo Fuller were up front. Even the bench looked strong for once with Pugh, Ameobi, Pearson, Wilkinson and Simonsen.
Both sets of fans were also up for the game, but with ticket sales to Robins' fans restricted to only half of the normal capacity, it was only Stoke fans that could be heard at kick-off as the temperature inside the stadium heated up but had to battle with the strong winds buffeting the Brit.
Even if Stoke's tensions were high, there is no doubt that the visitors had the same problems and it was the Potters that raised their game the better and were ahead after only fifteen minutes.
A Robins' defender brought down Liam Lawrence on the edge of the penalty area and from his free kick, he drifted the ball over the penalty area where Big Mama raised himself higher than their defence and powerfully headed the ball into the back of the net from four yards out.
Bristol did then start to wake up to their predicament and gave Carlo Nash his first real threat of the game, but Adebola's header went over the bar. But with half time starting to loom, that 'prolific' goalscorer stepped up with his second. Sidibe was able to break down the centre of the park and after a quick one-two with Fuller found himself in his own with just a keeper and a chasing defender to beat. Too many times this season we've witnessed Sidibe's poor finishing, but this evening he was in a class above and a great low shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net gave the keeper no chance. It's no so often this season that we've been treated to the Sidibe celebration shuffle and certainly not twice in one match as he doubled his season's tally in just 22 minutes.
The second half left Bristol boss, Gary Johnson, with no option but to mix up the team and he threw on Trundle and Noble at the break. Certainly there was more inventiveness from the visitors, which gave Nash his first real save of the match and a couple of near misses. But if the visitors were increasing the pressure at the Stoke end, we were still keeping the Robins occupied at the other end. Sidibe could have rounded the day of with a hat-trick, then Fuller had a good chance, but failed to get the power to get it past the keeper and Lawrence could have claimed his 16th of the season but saw Basso tip the ball of the crossbar.
It was against this onslaught that Bristol finally gave their fans something to cheer about. Their first corner of the match gave Adebola a good chance and he headed it into the back of the net. TV replays showed that Leon Cort's head also came into contact with the ball before it went past Nash.
So the Robins were back with some hope and could have equalised just minutes later as Stoke found themselves on the back foot. A goalmouth scramble saw the goal-bound ball hacked off the line by a vigilant Ryan Shawcross. But it was the Potters that ended the game the stronger, with Cort attempting to make amends for his part in their goal with a great header from a Lawrence corner, but saw it well saved by Basso.
Sidibe's great day turned to sadness with just minutes to go as he had to be stretchered off with a suspected knee ligament injury and he was replaced by Shola Ameobi. Ameobi's first touch, just seconds later, could have finished the game but he fired high and wide.
Five minutes of added-on time from yet another atrocious Premier League referee (this time Mike Riley) took the home fans' nerves nearly past breaking point, but finally it was all over and we can celebrate being back in second place with only two games to go.
The dream is STILL on. CMMMMMMMMMMM'ON you POTTERS!!!!
Stoke City: Nash, Riggott, Cort, Shawcross, Dickinson, Lawrence (Wilkinson 90), Delap, Whelan, Cresswell (Pearson 82), Sidibe (Ameobi 88), Fuller
Subs not used: Simonsen, Pugh
Bristol City: Basso, Orr, McCombe, Carey, McAllister, Brian Wilson (Noble 46), Elliott (Vasko 88), Skuse, McIndoe, Byfield (Trundle 46), Adebola
Subs not used: Weale, Fontaine