Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Sunday September 23 2007
Having witnessed the Potters' lack of bite in the 0-0 draw against Barnsley in midweek, you'd have been hard pressed to get a Stoke fan to predict a five goal 'thriller at the Brit' for Saturday's tussle with Plymouth Argyle.
'Thriller' may be overstretching the game a bit but for Stoke fans used to the humdrum of three recent draws and without a win since the first home match of the season, it came as a welcome relief.
The Potters, as predicted, reverted to Mamady Sidibe up front with Jon Parkin back on the bench. Gabby Zakuani and Clint Hill came in for Jody Craddock (recalled by Wolves) and Carl Dickinson (who came off injured in Tuesday's match).
Nerves were settled early on as the Potters edged into a 9th minute lead courtesy of Argyle defender, Marcel Seip. With Stoke gaining a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, a neat set piece involving three Stoke players ended with Dominic Matteo flicking on for Sidibe, but the ball seemed to be going wide of the goal until Liam Lawrence fired the ball back across the goalmouth, where it connected with Seip's head and he couldn't avoid heading it into his own net.
Throughout the first half the Potters were often on the back foot as Argyle fought back to try and level the match. Simonsen was called into last ditch saves of the line on at least two occasions and Stoke lived dangerously with few chances at the other end.
The start of the second half saw Clint Hill forced to retire after a clash in the first half had left him with some painful and bruised ribs, to be replaced by Andy Wilkinson. Minutes later, Argyle equalised, with Seip negating his previous own goal with a goal at the Potters' end - but again with the aid of his head. Plymouth, who had always been a constant threat, turned up the pressure further and went 2-1 ahead in the 59th minute through a goal from Rory Fallon after Steve Simonsen and Zakuani collided in the goal mouth. But whilst some fans feared the worst, the team showed greater character. Tony Pulis brought off Richard Cresswell for Peter Sweeney in an attempt to widen the play with virtually instant results.
A Rory Delap long throw into the penalty area allowed Ricardo Fuller to flick it on to the far post, whereupon Liam Lawrence ran in to blast the ball home. Stoke were back in the game.
With renewed optimism from the home support, Stoke went hunting for the winner. With 15 minutes remaining, a great chip from Peter Sweeney on the half way line and a perfectly timed run from Fuller, just beating the off-side trap, allowed the Jamaican international the chance for a big chip over the advancing Argyle keeper. The ball seemed to hang in the air for several minutes before rebounding in off the post for the Potters' winner. Fuller could have made the game safe shortly after with another well timed run, but the keeper was quicker off his blocks to save the shot.
A win is always good and just what Stoke needed after a run of three draws and the poor display against Barnsley. Both sides were evenly matched and both sides made several mistakes, but Stoke did enough to win and this time, unlike the catalogue of near misses on Tuesday, the chances went the Potters' way.
I think it's time for all genuine Stoke fans to now get properly behind their team. Let's not forget that the Potters have had only one defeat in the Championship (away at Southampton) since losing 1-0 at Norwich way back on March 17th. Whilst the back four are completely different from last season, they've still done well as Stoke currently share the best defensive record in the division with Charlton and Bristol City and now lie in 5th position- well in touch with the leaders. It may not be sexy football (but we can all remember what happened when a certain former manager claimed to play that way), but the manager has to work with the players at his disposal and he is still getting results. Whatever the real reasons why we couldn't get the right players in at the right time, this is the team we've got for now. Let's support them!.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Zakuani, Shawcross, Hill (Wilkinson 47), Wright, Lawrence, Delap, Matteo, Cresswell (Sweeney 64), Sidibe (Parkin 88), Fuller.
Subs not used: Hoult, Eustace
Plymouth Argyle: McCormick, Connolly, Timar, Seip, Sawyer (Hodges 89), Norris, Nalis, Buzsaky, Halmosi, Chadwick (Ebanks-Blake 70), Fallon (Hayles 70)
Subs not used: Doumbe, Gosling
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Date:Sunday September 23 2007
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