May 142011
 

It is one thing to lose when your team has done its best but quite another when they fail to perform.

Stoke City were beaten 1-0 by Manchester City in this afternoon’s FA Cup Final at Wembley. If the scoreline had read 4-0 in favour of the Manchester side, Stoke would have had little reason to complain.

In the first half, Stoke’s attack and midfield failed to turn up at the office. It was only thanks to some splendid saves by goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, and some woeful shooting from Manchester City,  that Stoke went in at half-time still in the game with the score at 0-0.

Stoke were completely outplayed in the first half. Man City’s manager Roberto Mancini had done his homework, nullifying the threat of Stoke City’s wingers Matthew Etherington, who looked far from fit, and Jermaine Pennant, as well as target man Kenwyne Jones.

A hallmark of Stoke’s midfield play is that they chase and harry, putting the opposition players under pressure and forcing them into errors. Too often, Stoke simply sat back and let the likes of Silva, Tevez and Touré orchestrate the game.

In the second half, Stoke briefly pressed and made more of a game of it but without ever really threatening. Man City’ goalkeeper had only one save to make in the entire match, thwarting Kenwyne Jones when he managed to get past defender Lescott.

It was always a question of when Man City would score and the goal duly came in the 75th minute when inter-passing between Silva and Balotelli in Stoke’s penalty area eventually saw the ball run free to Yaya Touré who drove home from 10 yards out.

It was game over as far as Stoke were concerned. They were never going to get back into this match. Too many players failed to play to their full potential; too many passes went astray. At times Stoke looked clueless and out of their depth, with balls aimlessly punted into areas where no Stoke player was present.

Stoke City’s first corner of the game came in the second minute of injury time. That statistic says it all.

The corner saw the strange sight of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen making an extra attacker in the Man City penalty area but it was to no avail.

The better team won. In football, there is simply no substitute for class and with players such as Tevez, Silva, Touré, Balotelli, and de Jong in the Man City side, class and talent triumphed.

After decades of living in the shadow of the illustrious neighbours Manchester United, Manchester City’s blue moon is rising.

For Stoke, unless quality players are brought into the side and manager Tony Pulis actually plays them, next season will see them once again fighting to retain their Premier League status, with little chance of challenging for major honours.

The best thing that can be said about Stoke City today was their fans. The Stoke team gave them little to sing about but their support never wavered. They completely outsang Manchester City’s supporters.

Apr 172011
 

In what was arguably Stoke City’s second greatest game in their 148-year history, the first being the League Cup final win in 1972, they made it to their first FA Cup final appearance after defeating Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the semi-final at Wembley.

I doubt that any fan, even the most diehard, would have predicted such a victory. It was unbelievable. I am still pinching myself to make sure that it wasn’t a dream.

With the new Wembley stadium echoing to the strains of Delilah, the anthem of Stoke City’s fans, Stoke found themselves with an amazing three-goal lead after just 30 minutes.

Matthew Etherington seized on a sloppy pass just outside the Bolton penalty area to rifle in a sweet shot to put Stoke 1-0 up after 11 minutes.

Six minutes later, a poor clearance by the Bolton’s Cahill saw defender Robert Huth volley home from 20 yards to give the Potters a 2-0 lead.

Exactly on the stroke of half an hour, Jermaine Pennant robbed Bolton’s Martin Petrov and took the ball 70 yards up the field before laying off an inch-perfect pass to Kenwyne Jones who calmly sidefooted the ball past the despairing dive of Bolton goalkeeper Jaaskelainen.

Leading 3-0, it looked like game over.

But I remember Stoke taking a 2-0 lead against Arsenal in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. Arsenal came back in the second-half and scored a last-minute equaliser to a secure a replay and eventual victory.

At half-time, I pondered whether such a fate was once again in store for Stoke.

Bolton’s manager Owen Coyle made changes to his side for the second half. He had to. The changes gave them a little bit of impetus but not enough to threaten Stoke’s dominance and any hope of a comeback was dashed in the 68th minute when Jonathan Walters, whose career began at Bolton, latched on to the ball and left Bolton defenders in his wake before cutting inside and firing a perfect shot into the corner of the Bolton goal.

Football fans throughout the UK pillory Stoke City’s style of play, saying that it lacks quality. As the TV commentator said of Walters’ goal, “It was quality with a capital Q.”

In fact, all of Stoke’s goals were quality efforts and I should imagine a great many football fans throughout the country will have to change their opinion on Stoke’s style of play.

The lead and Stoke’s ascendancy took on the stuff of dreams 13 minutes later when Walters pounced again after good work by Jones. His cross was deflected by Wilkinson into the path of Walters who chipped the ball beyond Jaaskelainen into the net for his second goal of the game and Stoke’s fifth.

It was not a victory but a history-making rout that will see Stoke meet Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 14.

Stoke will again go into that match as underdogs but, as the saying goes, every dog has its day, and it could well be that Stoke may cause another upset next month to lift the FA Cup trophy.

Here’s hoping that they do.