41 years ago today, there was an afternoon which summed up Denis Smith’s Stoke City career.
Mr Stoke City had captained the club to the verge of promotion back to the top flight – and stepped up again when injury seemed to have, and should have, ruled him out for the season.
This is Peter Hewitt’s Sentinel report of a 1-0 Stoke win at Wrexham – watched by 10,000 travelling Stoke fans – in the third but last game of the 1978/79 season.
It took 45 minutes for Denis Smith to be bandaged and strapped up after the latest unbelievable episode in his injury-defying career.
The Stoke skipper played a vital role in Stoke’s 1-0 win at Wrexham that left them poised for promotion.
The 10 stitches in his gashed left shin had opened up slightly. His right leg that swelled alarmingly five days earlier through a burst blood vessel was a little sore and physiotherapist Mike Allen also had to treat a large turn burn on the thigh.
Smith was still feeling pleased with life.
He had just seen his gamble of turning out against Wrexham pay off in a success that sent 10,000 Stoke fans home aware that the First Division is two matches away.
Promotion has still to be won but the determined qualities of the battling Smith and his teammates produced one of the most important victories of their hard-working season.
Smith appeared last week to be out for the season. He turned up for a gentle training jog on Friday, found the effect was not too bad and decided to step up his efforts.
By the time Saturday morning came and both Mike Doyle and Howard Kendall had been ruled out and the Stoke skipper had no choice but to play.
He said: “I have been playing long enough to know what I can do, even if it was something of a gamble.
“I hobbled a little on my right leg but I was more concerned with the stitches in my left. I took it easy for most of the game and I just took a knock at the end when the leg bled a little.”
Manager Alan Duban said: “Denis turned up and said he could not feel any pain. I wanted him out there for the presence alone gave the rest of the lads a psychological lift.
“The others will be fit for the next match but the Wrexham win centred around Denis.
“I decided to keep Alan Dodd as captain for the extra boost it would give him. He has played second fiddle to Denis but we needed him to take charge and he did.”
Smith’s gritty example and another outstanding performance from Dodd acted as a psur ot Stoke, who were in their own half for much of the game, yet restricted Wrexham to three chances.
Giles drove the ball over on the only occasion Stoke’s defence was pulled out of position in the first half.
Lyones took the ball off the head of Shinton, who was in a more favourable spot, and lively substitute Buxton blasted the ball over near the end.
Wrexham had nothing to match the cool finishing of O’Callaghan in the 44th minute. Crooks, working hard to justify his recall, slipped over a cross that Randall flicked down. O’Callaghan deftly slotted the ball past Davies as Wrexham’s defence seemed to freeze.
“Call it sunning calm,” said O’Callaghan later.
Stoke missed Kendall’s authority in midfield but they had another earnest display by Johnson and the normal all-out-the-way effort from Irvine.
Irvine’s impetuous tackle on Cartwright could put him on the 20-point mark and out of the final match at Meadow Lane.
Jones handled confidently despite the conditions.
Richardson, with a broken nose and two swollen eyes, looked as though he was being made up for a horror movie but he almost matches Smith for courage in another impressive right-back display.
It was hardly a classic performance but for sheer guts it will take some beating by Stoke.
Yet, as Mr Durban said: “We are not there yet.”
Stoke: Jones, Richardson, Scott, Johnson, Dodd, Smith, Randall, Irvine, O’Callaghan, Crooks, Busby. Sub: Lewis.