In a 38 game Premier League season, most clubs are going to have a game which leaves them feeling angry, bitter and hard done by. Fans of Stoke City may be able to take some solace from the fact that their side appear to have got theirs out of the way early after Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Tottenham. The 24,000 home fans leaving the Britannia Stadium’s first fixture of the 2010/11 campaign could still be heard to curse their luck though, having watched the Potters undone by one freak Gareth Bale goal and one so stunnigly good it must be classed as freak, despite being well worth a point at least against their more illustrious opposition, having had double their number of shots on target. Factor into this a clear late Stoke goal denied by referee Chris Foy, numerous petty decisions that seemed to go against the hosts and a season-ending injury suffered by home striker Mamady Sidibe it’s little wonder that the overriding emotion in one corner of North Staffordshire on Saturday night was one of extreme frustration.
Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross shows a sense of frustration shared by thousands of his fans
Just a few hours earlier, as the game kicked off, the mood was very different, with the 24,000 home fans in the crowd full of early season optimism despite Stoke’s opening day defeat at Wolves a week before. Though it was Tottenham who had the best of the early possession, assuredly stroking the ball around the midfield they had packed in the absence of fit forwards, Spurs ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes was the first to be tested, blocking a speculative drive from Stoke manager Tony Pulis’s newest signing, striker-cum-winger Jonathan Walters, who enjoyed a lively debut.
Nineteen minutes in though, just as the renowned Britannia Stadium atmosphere was beginning to build, Spurs silenced the home fans. Danny Collins, usually Pulis’s second-choice left back, had been selected ahead of Danny Higginbotham for the game as he was deemed better able to cope with the lively Tottenham wing duo of Bale and Aaron Lennon, but he was left looking foolish when the latter cleverly picked out the former, who, after a scramble in the six yard box, inadvertently but very successfully deflected the ball into Thomas Sorensen’s net off of his face.
Gareth Bale celebrates his incredible strike
Pulis’s men responded brightly to the setback and when Ricardo Fuller poked home an equaliser just six minutes later when the visiting defence failed to deal with a corner from former player Matthew Etherington pressed on in an attempt to take the lead. Bale had other ideas. Again found by Lennon after a quick Spurs breakaway, the Welsh converted winger contorted his body in order to raise his left foot high enough to fire home a perfectly struck volley from a tight angle on the left side of Sorensen’s penalty area, Bale finding just the combination of pace and precision needed to beat the Dane, who was left rooted to the floor. The Spurs fans were jubilant, heralding a wondergoal, while even the most partisan of Stoke followers had to admit they had witnessed something special.
2-1 it stayed until half time, with Gomes saving well from a low Fuller strike, and despite a lot of effort, it was not until the introduction of Turkey striker Tuncay on the hour that the Potters really looked like beating the Brazilian. Tuncay, however, set about his task like a man possessed, seeing more of the ball in ten minutes than many players had done the whole match and very nearly bettering Gomes with a dipping, deflected shot from range. Gomes made a fine save though, and when he again denied Fuller and smothered the danger with Tuncay lurking as normal time came to a close, it looked like it was to be Tottenham’s day.
The furious Stoke players remonstrate with referee Chris Foy
Having looked dangerous from set-pieces all day, a late corner appeared to provide a last throw of the dice for Stoke. Etherington whipped it over, Gomes flapped and Walters stooped to force it over the line. Or so it appeared to almost everyone but Foy. Despite being perfectly placed to see the “goal”, he inexplicably looked to his assistant for guidance. Understandably with a crowd of bodies in the way, none was forthcoming and play was waved on, leaving Walters and his new teammates fuming. To cap Potteries dismay, substitute Sidibe, who had only been on the pitch for three minutes was then stretchered off having snapped an achilles tendon, an injury that will keep the target man sidelined for the best part of a year.
Foy soon did blow his whistle, but to signal the end of the game rather than a goal, allowing Tottenham to travel home with all three points, albeit somewhat fortuitously. Stoke are still yet to get off the mark for the season, and with a visit to rampant Chelsea next week look unlikely to do so very soon, but after a strong showing against tough opposition, more similar performances and perhaps just a pinch of luck should see Pulis’s men climbing the table in the weeks and months to come.