Nearly Stoke's perfect day
1st April 2006 3pm
Stoke City allegedly played their best game of the season on Saturday and oh, so nearly came away with all 3 points. It could have been 3-0 to the Potters if all the cards had fallen the right way.
Stoke fielded five changes to the starting line-up at QPR in midweek. Carl Dickinson made his full team debut as part of Johan Boskampís ongoing strategy of blooding the youngsters in the final run-in and replaced Michael Duberry who had picked up an injury at QPR. Josip Skoko, Junior, Paul Gallagher and Mamady Sidibe all returned with the latter replacing Sam Bangoura.
In contrast to many home games this season, Stoke started the brightest and dominated the opening quarter of the match. The visitors were obviously feeling the pressure in front of over 4,000 travelling fans and had far more to lose as only a win would stop Reading from claiming the Championship title and defeat would leave them looking nervously over their shoulders at the chasing pack after the coveted second automatic promotion spot.
It was therefore no surprise when Josip Skoko headed Stoke into a deserved lead after 15 minutes. Paddy Kenny, the Bladesí keeper failed to clear the ball and Skoko just had to head it over the stranded keeper.
Stokeís defence held their line with Carl Dickinson and Clint Hill in particular having excellent games, leaving Steve Simonsen with little to do and the Potters went in at half-time 1-0 to the good.
At the start of the second half, Stoke continued to push forward and should have had a penalty when Sidibe was clearly fouled by Morgan in the penalty area, but, to his moral credit, stayed on his feet and gained nothing from the referee. How are we going to kick out cheating and diving in the game, if referees will not give a clear penalty because the fouled player did not dive head first into the mud?
Bladesí manager, Neil Warnock decided to throw Akinbiyi and Kabba into the fray in the 60th minute. Ade received an excellent reception from the Stoke supporters (but with most fans praying that he would not score) on his first appearance at the Brit since leaving for Burnley last year.
Skoko, playing arguably his best game for Stoke, should have had his second with fifteen minutes remaining. His shot from nine yards was deflected by Kennyís outstretched foot and the ball rebounded off the post.
This proved a turning point and Sheffield appeared revitalised with the presence of two new strikers on their side. Boskamp countered by taking off Hill for Buxton, Junior for Brammer and replacing Gallagher with Sigurdsson.
But it was a mistake by Hannes Sigurdsson that was to prove Stokeís only fault of the day. He hung on to the ball for too long in midfield only to lose it. Stoke were caught out and a good run from Webber resulted in him putting the ball into the net under a diving Simonsen.
It was a cruel blow for Stoke and the relief going around the South Stand was palpable. Sheffield United had managed to gain a point when they obviously realised they should have come away with none.
Stoke: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Broomes, Hill (Buxton 70), Dickinson, Junior (Brammer 70), Skoko, Russell, Chadwick, Sidibe, Gallagher (Sigurdsson 77).
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Kopteff.
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Kozluk, Morgan, Short, Unsworth, Jagielka, Ifill (Kabba 59), Tonge, Armstrong, Shipperley (Akinbiyi 59), Webber.
Subs Not Used: Montgomery, Gillespie, Lucketti.
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