Glensider at The Britannia Stadium
Glensider at The Britannia Stadium
After our two week sojourn away from the premier league stage, it was very definitely good to jump into the old jalopy, and head off northwards. Driving on our favourite stretch of motorway, as all who regularly use it will no doubt second, to make the short voyage to the Potteries region, situated in the very north of the beautiful county of Staffordshire, and the Britannia Stadium, home of Tony Pulis' Stoke City Football Club.
The Potters were founded way, way back in 1863, and are believed to be the second oldest club in the world, after Notts County, although of course, their new home, the Britannia Stadium only arrived on the scene back in 1997. Prior to that they called the Victoria Ground home, arguably a more intimidating arena even, than is their new base, although the Britannia regulars can really turn up the volume when the mood takes them, which unfortunately seems to be every time The Stokies take to the field.
Over the years, and I'm talking about going back to the sixties now, we've certainly not witnessed the claret and blues enjoy too much success on Potteries soil, be it at the old Victoria Ground, or the modern Britannia Stadium, and even on our two trips to Burslem back in the old third division days, we only managed a total of a solitary point against the 'other' lot, Port Vale, losing 2-0 in our first season, and then drawing 4-4 during our promotion winning campaign.
However we were in confident and buoyant mood as we joined the M6 north at beautiful Great Barr (Hi randy.stand), and joined the convoy of vehicles also heading up to the Britannia for the evenings action. Cant believe though that we haven't sold out for this one. That's not good news. O.K. it`s probably a hard days night and we've all been working like a dog, and Villans might be a little bit rushed to get home from work and then head on out for the game, but lets be realistic here, there aren't too many away games nearer mileage wise, than the one against Stoke City, and it takes what, 35/40 minutes to get up there? Oh well, it was on the box of course, and that probably deterred a few punters, but you cant beat actually being there. Can you?
Three of our party, we are once again the usual/regular four, went for the Villa win, while our fourth associate went for a high scoring 3-3 draw. As we all throw in a fiver to add a bit of fun to the pre-match predictions, the winner picks up the twenty quid, these predictions are not to be made lightly.
Of course, while the actual playing of the game of football has taken something of a backseat, there's been more than enough going on behind the scenes at Brummagem B6 to provide us with plenty to discuss as the miles roll away, and with John Cougar Mellancamp's excellent 1982 album 'American Fool' blaring out from the cd player, we were in a confident and happy mood as we approached our destination.
We met up with my good friends Dan and Richard from Newcastle-Under-Lyme, for a post game pint and snack. They're Stokies, Potters through and through, but as they picked up the tab for our refreshments, we're quite happy to overlook that failing.
Both are usually never slow in coming forward to predict a Stoke City success, but funnily enough, neither were confident of getting too much out of the game. Dan thought the home side might sneak a draw, while Richard went for 3-1 to the mighty Villans. Hey! Its obviously just not our lot that have their negative moments.
Villa fans a'plenty, both in the refreshment house and as we made our way to the stadium. They looked to be out in fairly good force, and were in good voice too. They weren't singing The Tremeloes hit from the late sixties though, 'Helule Helule', which friend Andy is convinced should be adapted to sing Houllie, Houllie, Houllier. It aint gonna happen Andy we'd all tried to convince him, not least because most of the Villans in evidence probably weren't even a twinkle in their parents eye when that catchy little ditty hit the charts. Are they still called the charts nowadays?
Into the ground, and we were greeted with the team news, Kevin MacDonald deciding to go with Brad in goal of course, and the rest of the team as follows:-
Luke Young, James Collins, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock, Marc Albrighton, Stan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Stewie Downing, Ash and Gabby.
On the bench we had Brad Guzan, Habib Beye, Cieran Clark, Carlos Cuellar, Jonathan Hogg, Stephen Ireland, and Emile Heskey.
Looked a good enough starting line-up to take all three points we commented, as the teams took to the arena, ready to get the evenings action underway. No Tony Pulis on the sidelines for the home side, for reasons probably known more to you guys watching the game on the tv screen, as opposed to those of us inside the stadium. Whatever the reason though, its probably been a long time since neither manager was in attendance at a premiership game.
There were certainly spare seats amongst the away supporters section. Sad to see, although those that made the effort were in full voice, although it was the home side who got off to the brighter start. Kenwyne Jones played in Etherington down the left, but his first cross of the game was cleared. Sixty seconds later Jones again split our defence, playing in Delap, who fortunately for us had strayed offside.
Delap's first long throw of the evening came fairly early on, but James Collins was on hand to clear. Delap then turned Stevie Warnock inside out, but his cross from a dangerous position came to nothing. Stoke were looking bright and inventive though, and we were very definitely on the back foot.
Kenwyne Jones was played in via a superb through ball, but he failed to chip the on-rushing Brad Friedel, who worryingly looked as though he'd injured his left arm parrying the effort. Stephen Warnock then confounded his shaky start, by getting booked for a silly, needless lunge at a Stokie.
On fifteen minutes though our first attempt on target, a long range Stewart Downing effort, but it was never going to beat Thomas Sorensen. Robert Green, maybe, but Sorensen no.
Jones hammered a shot from distance that Brad parried away, but then on thirty five minutes we took the lead via a superb headed effort from Stewart Downing. Gabby sent in a left footed cross from out on the right flank, and there was Stewie with a superb stooping header back across Sorensen and into the corner of the net. Not too bad an effort to open our goal scoring account away from Birmingham B6 this summer. Cue celebrations amongst the travelling support. Hugs, kisses and cuddles all round.
Stoke came straight back at us and there were claims for a penalty when the ball struck James Collins' hand. I thought that while it looked accidental, the spot-kick could very easily have been awarded.
We were playing some really decent stuff now, and in truth we should have added to our lead. Ash missed what looked like a sitter from where we were, up the other end of the stadium. Gabby sent in a gem of a cross, right footed from the left flank this time, but with only Sorensen to beat, Ash managed to steer his header wide of the post.
Stewart Downing crossed from the left and the ball landed for James Collins, who hammered it goalwards from about eight yards, out to the left of goal, only for Tommy Sorensen to block the effort. We were certainly upping our game, and on the prowl for more.
We'd been outplayed and outfought in the early stages, but as we left the field for half time, we should have been at least two goals to the good. Talk at half time centred around whether or not we'd pay for our missed opportunities. We usually do. Still, a much better first half showing when compared to the shambles at St James Park.
Tony Pulis put in an appearance at the start of the second forty-five, pity our manager couldn't do the same.
Another long Delap throw around the fifty five minute mark caused some panic at the back, but once again we managed to scramble the ball clear, and shortly afterwards, Ricardo Fuller, who always seems to cause a bit of panic in our defence entered the action.
Stoke were starting to dominate the action somewhat, and they then threw on their second substitution of the evening, Jermaine Pennant making his City debut. Needless to say we welcomed him into the game with a chorus of jeers, and a few choice gestures.
Up at our end Shawcross nearly sold Tommy Sorensen short with a poor back-pass, which the keeper directed straight at the on-rushing Nigel Reo-Coker. It could have gone anywhere of course, but sadly for us, it flew up off Nigel and over the bar.
Finally ten minutes from the end the home side leveled. Jones rose to head home his first goal for The Potters, giving Brad no chance from about two yards, connecting with a superb cross from Etherington.
Another long Delap throw had us scampering about again before Brad collected the ball, and Kevin MacDonald decided it was time to replace Gabby, who I thought had had a pretty decent game, with Emile Heskey, and Pulis hauled off Delap to replace him with the guy who scored that late, late equaliser at Villa Park a couple of seasons back, a goal that really derailed our chase for fourth spot.
Fuller was causing us trouble, and Brad had to parry away another of his efforts, and then Whelan hammered a thirty-five yard free kick over the bar, a total waste for the home side.
That was it we thought, and no doubt, so did you guys too, sat on your couches at home or in your local pub.
But no, Pennant wins what I thought was a dubious free kick out on the right following a challenge by Stan Petrov, we fail to clear the ball which falls to Etherington. He sets up Huth, and there you have it. We've concede a goal at the death again, and this time it means we return home pointless. 2-1 to The Potters, and the Britannia Stadium goes wild, apart of course from our section, where dejection is very much the order of the day.
So frustrating, so disappointing. We should never have thrown it away, simple as.
The general consensus amongst the Villans as we left the ground was that Houllier has to get himself to Villa Park asap. The team needs its new manager. This is not a healthy situation that we find ourselves in. The team needs leadership and direction, guidance and stability again.
He has many plus points and positives to work with, but we need him at the helm yesterday. Two away defeats in succession, we're not used to that. We're used to being very competitive and hard to beat on the road, we're used to picking up points.
Not the happiest of drives back down the M6 to Brum, but considering we are rudderless right now, treading water somewhat, maybe six points out of a possible twelve is not too bad a return?
Have yourselves a great week, and bring on Bolton Wanderers. Bring on the new manager too. We need him more than the French Football Federation ever do. He's their past. He's our immediate future.