I noticed on EPL Talk the other day somebody asking for an article on Stoke City’s chances of winning the FA Cup, so I thought I’d have a crack at this blogging lark and give you the wisdom of this Stokie’s insight and opinion of our form and chances.
Getting to the semi-final of the FA Cup is a rare occurrence for Stoke City. Only once in the 19th century have we accomplished it, and only twice in the 20th century. All before my time and poor going for a team that will be celebrating 150 years in existence in 2013. Before the semi-final all I wanted was for us not to disgrace ourselves, to give it a go, and not freeze on the big stage. I said I’d be happy with Manchester City in the final. Well so far I’ve got what I want.
The semi-final was a truly surreal experience. I’ve followed Stoke all over England during the past sixteen years and have seen us take some real drubbings. The one that sticks in my mind is a 0-6 defeat away at Nottingham Forest when a young Marlon Harewood tore us a new backside just after Tony Pulis took over in his first stint at the club. That was embarrassing enough; God only knows how those poor Bolton fans felt after seeing their team rolled over on a stage as huge as Wembley.
Whilst Bolton were truly bad, everything gelled on the day for Stoke and I believe this is down to the meticulous preparation of our management team. Bolton players came out for their wander around the pitch suited and booted as if they were there for the final. The Stoke players followed them in tracksuits and training shoes, much more relaxed and apparently knowing in no uncertain terms that the job was not finished. A mate’s son had being doing work experience at the club when Stoke played West Ham in the quarter final match; he said that after the match the players came in looking pretty calm, almost glum. They heard the cup draw and a few smiled and cheered when Bolton came out as the opposition. Tony Pulis’s response to them was along the lines of ‘Forget that, we’ve got Newcastle on Saturday’ (probably with a few more choice expletives knowing him). We know how to keep our feet on the ground.
During the FA Cup semi-final everything went perfectly. The Stoke City supporters bounced their way through the simplest game of football we’ve played all season. “Delilah” reverberated around the stadium at least five times; ‘We only score from a throw in’ and ‘We’re Stoke City, we’ll play how we want to’ were well aired also. The perfect game and result, on the biggest stage, it made up for my years following Stoke, toiling around League One and the Championship.
As we all know the semi- final match turned into the most one-sided FA cup semi-final in seventy odd years. Outsiders will think that this is a one off. Bolton froze, and everything went right for Stoke on the day. I may have red-and-white tinted glasses on but it was more than that. We’re hitting form in all positions at the right time.
To recap for those that don’t follow the Potters on a regular basis; we easily beat West Ham 2-1 after they’d battered us the week before. Newcastle next 4-0, fair enough the bar codes aren’t great away but Stoke were ruthless. Chelsea 1-1, if not for Petr Cech it could have been 4-1 to Stoke and that is no exaggeration. A 3-2 defeat against Spurs, a loss but another two goals and a much better performance away from home (we live up to our billing as dour in away matches usually). Beat Bolton 5-0, say no more (watch the goals if you haven’t already – tell me which came direct from a set piece or a long ball). We then drew Villa away 1-1, again a much improved away game, Stoke were on top for much of the first half. We defeated Wolves at home 3-0, The Wolves fighting to stay up, clinically pulled apart by Stoke, left the Wolves fans admitting it could have been 6 or 7.
I don’t think we’ve been playing this consistently since our promotion season. Jones, Pennant, Walters and Etherington have gelled up front, the defence has always been relatively settled and the central midfielders generally pick themselves.
However we’ve started to pick up injuries to some of our most important players. Fuller may not have been starting but he’s a magician, our talisman, worth chucking on to go all David Copperfield on your arse for the last fifteen minutes if we need to pull something out of the bag. He’s just been operated on and has no chance of making the final. Then on Tuesday against Wolves Matty Etherington went past a Wolves defender at pace then just slipped off the pitch. Hamstring apparently. We’re sweating on it but personally I feel it’s the bench at best for him in the final. Pennant is on fire at the moment, as are Jones and Walters; I expect all three to be rested at some point in the run up to the final.
As for the final against Manchester City it’ll be tough but it’s the match up that I wanted. We’ve beaten them more than once. In our first season back in the Premier League we beat them 1-0 after playing with ten men for 55 minutes, in an atmosphere that I’ve never experienced before or since. Hostile doesn’t describe it. Last season we played two epic FA cup matches and overcame them. We’re usually poor against them at Eastlands but we have already proven that Wembley does not daunt us. It’ll be tight and if Tevez is back then realistically Manchester City should be favourites. If Tevez doesn’t start, I’d say it’s up for grabs.
Whatever happens this will be the pinnacle for me supporting Stoke City. All I’ve ever wanted is to see them lift the FA Cup. People are flying in from all over the world trying to get tickets from anywhere, anyhow. Stories are going around about holidays being cancelled; even a Stokie’s wedding has been postponed! It means so much to the city of Stoke on Trent.
I’m going to rush back from Wembley to Stoke if we win. I want a drink before the pubs run dry. Either way at least I’ll be able to get a hair-cut. I decided to let it grow until Stoke got knocked out of the FA Cup. That was on 15 November 2010. I look like a cross between David Luiz and Rory Mcilroy now. Stylish it’s not.
Anyhow I hope this has given you a bit of perspective from the point of view of a match going fan who’s lucky enough to be able to attend on regular basis and has paid their dues slumming around the lower leagues with their team. I’m sure you’ll excuse me for feeling pleased with my Stoke City life at the moment. If any of you are daft enough to back Stoke based on this, don’t blame me when it goes pear shaped. But feel free to share any winnings with me!