Nervy Potters win at last!
25 February 2006
Stoke at last managed to bury two hoodoos today at the Britannia. First they managed to win and secondly managed to score their first penalty in the last four attempts.
It was Stoke's first win since December 17th, having only managed three draws in the Championship since and not scored in 7.5 hours of football, it was essential that we managed to slay the Lions in what started off as a nervy encounter on a bitterly cold day in the Potteries.
Top striker, Sam Bangoura, was missing (officially this time) as he recovers from an operation on his broken hand, but Darel Russell and Paul Gallagher both returned from suspension and injury respectively to start from the subs' bench. Josip Skoko, returning from international duty, was preferred to Junior, who had played well in the FA Cup tie last Sunday and many fans thought should have been allowed to start.
As is now usual, Stoke started nervously and Millwall, determined to put their poor form behind them and move out of the relegation zone, attacked the City defence. It only took 9 minutes for Stoke to fall behind from a corner that was headed in by an unmarked Ben May. One wonders if this team ever learns from past defeats as it was a similar defensive error from a set piece that sent them out of the FA Cup only 6 days earlier.
There was a deathly silence around the Britannia as the fans marvelled at yet another example of the Potters' mastery of the set piece defensive error. But less than 10 minutes later, salvation was at hand in the shape of Millwall defender, Matt Lawrence who fouled Carl Hoefkens just inside the penalty area. The Referee didn't spot the offence but the Linesman, to his credit, waved wildly until the Referee stopped the game and pointed to the spot.
After his previous failed penalty attempt, Luke Chadwick sensibly decided to run over to the bench to ask for advice and Carl Hoefkens stepped up to put the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net to equal the score.
After that the Potters started to gain confidence and Sidibe, Chadwick and Sweeney all narrowly missed putting the Potters into the lead. Shortly before half time, Peter Sweeney pulled up with a back injury and was substituted for Paul Gallagher, himself returning after a knee injury.
In the second half, the Potters continued to pile on the pressure with Steve Simonsen hardly troubled. Carl Asaba, making his first return to the Potteries since moving at the start of the season, made no impact on the Stoke penalty area, although Marlon Broomes had a shaky game in defence and gifted several chances to the Millwall attack.
Mamade Sibide and Hannes Sigurdsson lead the Stoke attack with Gallagher having replaced Sweeney on the left wing. Sidibe in particular, never stopped the whole game and with some better finishing should have added to his own goal tally. Clint Hill nearly managed a goal from a corner, but headed just over the bar.
In the 58th minute, Paul Gallagher, coming down the left wing, hit a beautiful ball from over 20 yards which shot past the Millwall keeper and into the net to finally put Stoke in front.
After this, Stoke seems to take their foot off the pedal slightly and allowed Millwall more control in the midfield. As a result of this, Boskamp decided to bring on fresh legs and with fifteen minutes left Darel Russell replaced Skoko.
With the fans pushing the players on for a third goal to clinch the game, it was nervous last ten minutes (with four minutes of added on time) for the Stoke faithful before they could celebrate a long awaited and creditable victory.