It was on this day in 2008 that Stoke City had their first home game in the top flight for 23 years. The fans had been impatient and, with the drama that followed and a team packed with players they could really get behind, it’s fair to say they enjoyed the afternoon.
Here is the report of that match against Aston Villa, by Martin Spinks.
The word is going around that internet betting company SeamusStrong.com are already paying out on bets that Stoke will survive the drop this season.
There is even a rumour that another Dublin-based bookmaker, MickeyMighty24/7, is drastically shortening its odds on Stoke landing a UEFA Cup place.
Feet are more firmly fixed on the ground in these parts of course, even after Saturday’s events, as the battle is not yet won, merely joined.
The City faithful are entitled to party well in their Bank Holiday festivities, however, after seeing the good name of their club stick the proverbial two fingers up to those bookmakers showing less respect than our friends Seamus and Mickey.
And what a timely send off for Tony Pulis as he launched himself into a round of live studio broadcasts on Sky’s Goals On Sunday and the BBC’s Match Of The Day 2.
For your latest Stoke City news sign up to our newsletter with your email in the box at the top of the page – or click here
You can’t imagine him going all luvvie duvvie on us just yet, though one dressing-room insider swears blind he recently spotted eye liner and blusher among his gaffer’s toiletries.
Saturday’s historic triumph was some celebration for the 100th match of his second spell at Stoke which, lest we forget, began with a 1-0 defeat at Southend United. What a journey over the past two years.
The Britannia Stadium was truly resplendent as supporters provided the kind of noise and colour to surely rank alongside the Victoria Ground’s more memorable offerings.
STOKE CITY 3 (Lawrence 30 pen, Fuller 81, Sidibe 90)
ASTON VILLA 2 (Carew 63, Laursen 84)
Stoke City 7 (4 on target) Aston Villa 5 (2 on target)
Mark Halsey (Lancashire) 7
YELLOW – Stoke: Kitson (foul, 56). Villa: none. RED – None.
SORENSEN: Put his name on just about everything flung into box and no realistic chance with the goals. 8
GRIFFIN: Rarely left behind by Ashley Young after bringing experience and temperament to one of his team’s more testing tasks of the day 8
DICKINSON: Belied his relative lack of experience as he chose the right moments to dive in or stand off to help frustrate Villa 8
CORT: Dovetailed remarkably well alongside new sidekick Abdoulaye Faye in central defence, while sticking to his own guns defensively 8
AB FAYE: Marvellous first game. Led by example and appeared to frighten the life out of Agbonlahor. On this evidence, a magnificent new asset. Best debut by a centre-half since Gerry Taggart? 9
LAWRENCE: Cool head on the penalty, while his stamina throughout justified his return to starting line-up 8
AM FAYE: Easy to overlook his no frills contribution in midfield, but takes great credit for helping blunt Villa’s midfield creativity 8
OLOFINJANA: Got caught a few times in possession, but immensely strong presence when required and his fitness is clearly improving 8
DELAP: Just how long were those throws? But contributed far more, including winning the penalty 8
KITSON: Not too many sniffs, if any, at the business end, but knuckled down for the cause in less spectacular areas 8
FULLER: What a second goal, one of his very best, as he troubled Villa’s back line at every opportunity. 9
DIAO (Am Faye, 72): Thrown on to regain some control of a match that could have slid beyond Stoke at that stage 7
SIDIBE (Kitson, 76): What a goal, what a smile. Thank goodness his head is much bigger than his ego 7
CRESSWELL (Fuller, 87): Fresh legs for the tiring Fuller and caught a couple of half-sighters at goal. 7
Not used: Simonsen, Whelan, Shawcross, Wilkinson.
ASTON VILLA: 1 Friedel, 2 L Young, 21 Shorey (18 Routledge, 73), 5 Laursen, 15 Davies, 20 Reo-Coker, 19 Petrov, 6 Barry, 7 A Young, 10 Carew, 11 Agbonlahor. Not used: 13 Taylor, 9 Harewood, 16 Knight, 17 Salifou, 26 Gardner, 27 Osbourne.
By Martin Spinks
If Stoke City landed in the Premier League on the first weekend of the season, they truly arrived on the second. To mark the stadium’s top-flight debut with such a heartening, dramatic and landmark victory was a dream rendered all the more fanciful by the anti-climactic events at Bolton.
But Saturday’s emotional triumph joins that ever-lengthening list of joyous occasions at the Britannia, which were once so heavily outweighed by the more miserable experiences of its first few years in existence. Thanks to events on the pitch, and the vibrant support around it, the new stadium now has a pulse beating as fast as its predecessor’s once did.
Even the weather kindly remembered it was August, just in time to accompany an occasion momentous enough even before the success about to follow after the first whistle. The stadium’s summer facelift isn’t quite complete – thanks in no small measure to the present climate – but there was still a sense of a new age finally dawning for a club supping from the game’s real riches for the very first time.
An extended and cosmopolitan press box, together with TV crews around just about every corner, was evidence enough that Stoke City had now entered a stratosphere from which it had been denied entry for far too long.
One radio commentator, experienced enough to be working the last time Stoke were in the top flight 23 years ago, had so many accreditation passes draped around his neck like gold medals that all he needed was a pair of swimming trunks to complete his impression of the most successful Olympian of all time.
It was access all areas for Stoke, too, as their game ventured from the brutally long to the wonderfully intricate en route to dismantling Villa’s previously explosive beginning to their own campaign.
And how heartening that all three goalscorers should be players straddling Stoke’s leap from the Football League to the Premier League on a day when so many newcomers were palpably playing their part in this jubilant celebration.
Five of the 11 starters were making their home debuts and, at the risk of offending the other four, it was pretty obvious which of these new faces fitted quickest into his new environment.
Abdoulaye Faye’s performance in central defence was every bit as powerful and disciplined as his one previous appearance on this ground for Newcastle last January.
Having been away all week with Senegal and been kept sweating until Friday over his work permit, he had no real right to produce a display around which the rest could anchor Stoke’s largely diligent defences.
His highlight surely came in the second half when, having relinquished a yard on the nimble-footed Ashley Young, he not only made up the lost ground, but clipped the ball off the England winger before striding clear and coolly dispatching it to a waiting colleague.
Young’s contribution flattered to deceive on a day when so many visiting colleagues could lay similar claims against Stoke’s ability to ride the wave of emotion sweeping through this entire occasion. Only when standing over a multitude of dead-ball situations did Young escape Andy Griffin’s near faultless attentions, but his subsequent deliveries were nullified by Thomas Sorensen’s determination to avenge the manager abandoning him to Villa’s reserves last season.
BIG Mama ensured that Saturday will go down as the greatest game the Britannia Stadium has ever witnessed… at least up until now.
I still can’t quite believe we did it.
Every single player gave the heart and soul to that victory. It was so refreshing to see us still going for the win in the dying seconds, and full marks to Pulis and the management team for instilling belief in the team.
The two Fayes were superb on their debuts and Olofinjana marshalled England’s Barry in excellent fashion. Congratulations Stoke on a historic victory. What a way to return after 23 years!
JAMES KNOWLES, Eccleshall
IT was great to see a full house at the Brit and it wasn’t long before ‘Lenny’ Lawrence scored the historic goal, via a penalty, that put us into the lead – we were in raptures.
We knew that Villa would come back into it at some point and they equalised in the second half. When ‘Fuller goals’ made it 2-1 with 10 minutes to go, the roof came off, but minutes later a sloppy free-kick saw us concede another equaliser.
Enter ‘Big Mama’ as he back-headed a huge Delap throw to send us into a 3-2 lead. There was no way back this time for Villa as the pilgrims at the Mecca of the Potteries football rose to the heavens with the best Delilah ever heard at the Brit. Eat your heart out the bookie who condemned us – we won’t give up our Premier League status easily. What a great day!
DAVE HARRISON, Eaton Park
I DON’T think in the 40 years that I have been following the Potters I have ever experienced such emotion and such elation as when Mama Sidibe scored the winning goal in the last minute. From the full Britannia Stadium to the loudest Delilahs I have ever heard, this was an amazing and very emotional experience – and one I am sure everyone who attended this game will ever forget.
I don’t think many of us expected such a performance or this result, but credit to the players who gave us a gritty, excellent performance with some great football thrown in as well. It was a rollercoaster ride, and we had great spells in the game, but Villa were able at times to peg us back at times. Fortunately, we have our very own Mama, who proved to be a super sub.
Dare we expect the same at Middlesbrough next week? Fingers crossed!
SUE BRYAN, Meir Park
The return of Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller to City’s starting line-up was a courageous and attacking declaration of faith from their manager that both were to reward with far more than just their goalscoring contribution.
Lawrence now lays claim to the Britannia’s first-ever Premier League goal after driving his 30th-minute penalty narrowly beyond the keeper’s full-length dive low to his right following Martin Laursen’s slight, but evident, collision with Rory Delap.
It was a lead merited on Stoke’s confident and not unattractive first-half offering, but possession and territory had visibly swung Villa’s way by the time an intended pass from Delap to Carl Dickinson was ruthlessly seized upon in a fashion to which Stoke are fast becoming accustomed at this level.
The towering figure of John Carew demonstrated his ability was not confined solely to the air by exchange passes with Young and firing across Sorensen to hit the net inside the keeper’s far right-hand post.
With Villa in the ascendancy and nearly half-an-hour remaining, Bolton part two was sadly beckoning
But Stoke’s ability on the break was wonderfully exploited in the 81st minute after Gareth Barry completed a fruitless afternoon’s endeavour by passing straight to Delap to inadvertently launch the day’s best and deadliest move.
Lawrence’s threaded pass unleashed Fuller for his own gold-medal moment as he allowed the ball to roll over his foot to leave it looping sufficiently to throw Laursen off balance and leave the Jamaican striker turning goalwards. It was pure Bergkamp, even Gazza v Scotland in Euro 96, especially after what followed as Fuller advanced right of goal before lashing across Brad Friedel and inside his far post.
The Boothen End erupted with such ferocity as to narrow the length of the pitch by another yard or so in celebration of a truly champagne moment on which Fuller can dine out anywhere between here and the Carribean for some time to come.
But games in the Premier League have to be won not once, not even twice, but three times, it appears, as Young’s low and seemingly mis-hit free-kick into the Stoke area three minutes later left the ball skewing fortuitously for Laursen to lash home from five yards.
Back came Stoke in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time for that psychologically signifant first victory, however, as Delap’s umpteenth throw into a crammed penalty area brushed off the back of Mama Sidibe’s head to nestle inside the far corner to leave Friedel head in hands and Sidibe head in clouds.
The stadium bounced on its hinges for a third time, its new paintwork peeling and its old cascading like gold dust.
And in one fell swoop – and much quicker than many of us were anticipating – Stoke now have their first point and first victory on this long old road towards who knows where.
Next comes their first away point, then first away win, then 10 points, 20 points, 30 points and finally, a week or two from the end of the season, Premier League safety. At least that’s the plan.
Some route map, but one suddenly looking a little less daunting than it once did.