Heads You Win
Stoke City 3-0 Brighton and Hove Albion (19:02:11)
Ah, the Boothen roar; terracing; Delilah; a wall of noise; a four goal thriller; Peter Beagrie; Dean Wilkins and being unceremoniously bundled into the back of a police van for "our own safety" after the match. All memories of the last time I went to Stoke City to see Brighton & Hove Albion play, at their old Victoria Ground - in 1989. I was probably overdue a re-visit and the Albion's first FA Cup Fifth Round Proper in 25 years seemed as good a reason as any to head back to The Potteries.
The only way of getting there by train 22 years (twenty-two-chuffing-years) later without paying an arm and two legs was on a magical mystery tour via Milton Keynes. Luckily, my main man Mr Cherry was on hand with a set of wheels - aka the Silver Flash. We punched ST4 4EG into the Sat-Nav and let the giggles commence. We were brimmers with excitement, because this was not only our big day out (© Tony Pulis), but also our cup final (© Tony Pulis, again). How nice of Big Tone to upgrade the day. And not a hackneyed cliche in sight, refreshing.
A twenty two year old photo, tick. Stoke City v Brighton, Victoria Ground, May 1989.
Fast forward a few years, and it's a warm welcome back to Stoke.
This is magnifient. One of the best tributes I've seen to a true legend. 5 FIFA stars.
Drinking in decent pubs around the ground was one of the options lost when City moved grounds. The Britannia does have a couple of alehouses fairly nearby, but they are either not really the places that away fans can sup in confidence, or Harvesters that are 10 deep at the bar. So for the perfect pre-match drinking experience, we pitched up at The Greyhound Inn, Penkhull, one of the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent. Old Speckled Hen on tap was enough to have us reminiscing back in a haze of blurry sepia-tinged nostalgia; Brighton v Stoke at the Goldstone Ground in 1990 with thousands of City fans in fancy dress anyone?
The Brit certainly wouldn't have Prince Charles purring from an architectural point of view. But to my mind, what primarily makes a ground special - aside from old skool scoreboards and hulking great Eastern European floodlights - is its supporters. Stoke City normally have a brilliantly passionate - and somewhat intimidating - support who are, according to this match ticket anyway, the LOUDEST in England. They were certainly the most vociferous we've had at Withdean until FC United rolled into town recently. They were quiet today however, but then they probably don't give two hoots about Brighton, and in fairness, if we were playing a club two divisions below us in the cup, Withdean would be pretty silent as well.
Off the top of my head I didn't recall seeing a hippopotamus strolling down Stoke High Street beforehand (I think they tend to stay in the more outlying areas like Burslem), but that hasn't stopped The Potters tenuously adopting them as their mascots. I saw the plump and bulky Mr Pottermus (in blue) and his bread knife Mrs Pottermiss (white), grazing on the grass before the match. I'm unsure as to what the groundsman makes of all this - not that Stoke use the grass too much. Boom, boom and indeed tish.
Kids love Potter(s).
Erm......no thanks. You're 'avin a scarf lads.
In the away end pints of
Brighton took to the pitch on top of their league and with a manager promoting "sexy flickies and one twos" all over the park. Thirty man moves are the norm with the Albion this season, but - unlike Messi & Co - could we do it on a cold and damp Saturday afternoon in Stoke? Maybe. The home team were, after all, in a run of fairly average form, and have reverted back to what some locals refer to as 'Pulisball'. Their last game before this was an entirely predictable dish of numbing dross against Birmingham. All The Seagulls had to do was control possession in the midfield (see engine room Gary Dicker for details), cut off supply to the wings and a place in the FA Cup Quarter Finals was ours. Whoop.
Football fans are all too quick to lay into Stoke's style of play, but how many of them actually watch every game they play? The only time I really get to see them is for three minutes each week when they're tagged on the end of Match of the Day for the Tony Gubba game. So I wasn't about to vilify Stoke without fact. Just as well really. They tore Brighton to pieces early on. I knew about their aerial threat, viewers of the last five minutes of MOTD were aware and so were Brighton - we just couldn't cope with it.
Carew nodded the Potters ahead from - surprise, surprise - a long throw-in from Delap. Walters added a second, with another header, after some questionable goalkeeping from our Slovakian cup "specialist" Brezovan. And Shawcross scored their third with yet another bloody header, after more good work from the highly impressive Belfast born midfielder, Marc Wilson. Pretty deflating for the large Albion following, but a masterclass in set plays and the like from Stoke. Nobody does it better.
Sadly, Etherington - who had been a relative joy to watch with his trickery down the left flank - was withdrawn just before half time with an injury. He was replaced by Ricardo Fuller, who I believe I'm contractually obliged to refer to as both a maverick Jamaican and a real handful. You could almost Phil (sic) the power of his presence.
Delap. He throws from the left....
...he throws from the right. Anti-football? You're probably right.
Etherington produces thrills and spills in front of the World Wide Webb.
Brighton fans did at least have a bit of fun in the second half. Finally, we got into our stride, and towards the latter stages strung together a plethora of passes to huge cheers. Hell, even Stoke managed to string four consecutive passes together at one stage, which brought the house down from both sets of fans. We all laughed.
So a thoroughly deserved win for the home side. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say well played. The did boss the midfield and we did fail to cut off the supply to their wings. Them's the breaks.
Afterwards, the debate raged on amongst the Stoke faithful as they near the end of their three-year plan. It centred around the sale of Tuncay and Gudjohnssen, the purchase of Carew, and about whether Pulis can actually take the club beyond survival at all cost and develop their football. Can he overcome his underdog mentality and mistrust of individuality, or will he continue to revert back to his default setting of Pulisball? Better times are round the corner for Brighton, but for today anyway, forgive us Delilah we just couldn't take anymore. Well played Stoke.
We'll be back.
Yeah, about that car in Zaragoza old chap...
For lots more photos CLICK ME.
For lots more photos CLICK ME.
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