Stoke City FC - Three Months of the Premier League - Part One

  It’s three months to the day since the players of Stoke City took to the field in the Premier League for the first time. Bolton’s Reebok Stadium was to play host to 2,500 that made up Stoke’s first travelling contingent in the top flight for 23 years.

   Some squad strengthening had taken place over the summer before the game, club record signing Dave Kitson had arrived for £5.5 million a month before, to be followed quickly by Nigerian midfielder Seyi Olofinjana and experienced Danish ‘keeper Thomas Sorensen, who arrived for £3 million and on a free transfer respectively. Then, the day before the season’s kick off, the signings of Senegalese pair Amdy and Abdoulaye Faye were sealed, the latter proving to be one of the Potters’ most influential players so far this season. His signing came too late to make it into the matchday squad for that first fixture at Bolton.

Picture of Dave Kitson Picture of Seyi Olofinjana Picture of Thomas  Sorensen

                              Picture of Amdy Faye Picture of Abdoulaye Faye

Dave Kitson, Seyi Olofinjana, Thomas Sorensen and Amdy and Abdoulaye Faye were the sum of Stoke’s summer transfer activity

  The match itself at Bolton was one to forget as a Stoke fan. The first half hour of Stoke’s Premier League history went by without incident, before three strikes in the ten minutes before half time, two resulting from poorly defended set-pieces, left Stoke fans with their heads in their hands and Stoke players with an insurmountable mountain to climb. Ricardo Fuller’s late consolation did give Stoke something to cheer about, but it was too little, too late and as we left the Reebok, the Potters sat rock bottom of the Premier League.

  This was hard to take without the news that fellow new-boys Hull seemed to be coping admirably with life in the Premier League and had beaten Fulham. At that stage, the season ahead for stoke looked long and difficult, and I even entertained guilty thoughts of beating pleased to beat Derby’s eleven point total from last season. 

  A week later, Stoke hosted their first ever Premier league home game, the opponents Aston Villa. Stoke fans had been cheered in mid-week by the signing of young Southampton full-back Andrew Davies, who, despite not featuring yet this season through injury, looks to be a good acquisition for the future.

Picture of Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies joined the Stoke ranks

  Emotions following the Villa match could not have been more different to those of seven days earlier. A Liam Lawrence penalty, Fuller’s eventual goal of the month winner and Mamady Sidibe’s late header from the most potent of weapons, a Rory Delap long throw, sealed Stoke the points in a thrilling 3-2 game. Meanwhile Abdoulaye Faye made an impressive debut in the heart of defence. The win moved Pulis’ men up the table to fourteenth, a position that then, and now almost all Stokies would be delighted to find themselves in at the end of the season.

 

Ricardo Fuller smashes home before Sidibe celebrates giving Stoke their first ever Premier League win

Stoke’s first Carling Cup engagement of the season came three days later, with a visit to League One Cheltenham Town at their Whaddon Road home. A weakened Stoke side was still strong enough to edge out the hosts in another 3-2 encounter, the goals coming courtesy of Glenn Whelan, Richard Cresswell and Jon Parkin, who has since departed for Preston.

  With the distraction of the League Cup aside, it was back to Premier League matters, with Stoke making a tough looking trip to Middlesbrough. Still, the Stoke fans who made the long trip were hopeful of at least a point on the day. Reading’s Ibrahima Sonko had been signed for £2 million the day before, the centre back becoming the fourth Senegalese player in Pulis’ squad.

Picture of Ibrahima Sonko

Ibrahima Sonko added strength to the Stoke defence

Sonko didn’t feature against Middlesbrough, but the Stoke players who did made a bright start, more than containing their established Premier League opponents for more than half an hour. Disaster then struck though, Amdy Faye giving referee Mike Dean no choice but to send him off following a dangerous challenge on Middlesbrough’s Mohamed Shawky. Boro’s Brazialian forward Afonso Alves scored from the resulting free-kick to cap a very bad two minutes for Stoke. Midlesbrough missed a penalty in the second half before a justin Hoyte own goal gave Stoke parity against the run of play. Tuncay Sanli struck Boro’s winner with just five minutes remaining though, making the Potters leave empty handed.

  Despite the result, the mood was still positive for Stoke after the game. We had given a good Premier League side a hard game, despite playing for an hour with ten men, and who knows how things would have ended if the game had stayed eleven versus eleven.

  The transfer deadline passed two days later, Pulis re-signing Danny Higginbotham from Sunderland, and adding midfielders Tom Soares and Michael Tonge from Crystal Palace and Sheffield United to the squad.  The sum of Stoke’s summer transfer dealings looked decent but not spectacular. Around £23 million had been spent, ona total of ten players, a figure we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. Abdoulaye Faye looked the pick of the bunch after two impressive performances, but disappointment was growing over Dave Kitson’s lack of form. What he needed was a goal. Few at the time though would have predicted that two and a half months later he would still be waiting for one.

Picture of Danny Higginbotham Picture of Tom Soares Picture of Michael Tonge

Danny Higginbotham, Tom Soares and Michael Tonge all signed for Stoke on transfer deadline day

  After a loss, I always want the next game to come as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in early September we faced a two week wait with an international break. The next game came eventually though, Everton visiting the Britannia Stadium to play in front of Sky Sports cameras. Sonko and Higginbotham both made their debuts and Michael Tonge featured as a late substitute in an exciting match, Stoke falling 2-0 down before clawing in back to 2-2, with two goals sprung from the arms of Delap, one being Olofinjana’s first for Stoke, the other a Phil Jagielka own goal,  before conceding from a corner to eventually lose 3-2.

Kitson battles Jagielka for the ball

  I felt after that match that Stoke showed an immaturity in defending, to get the game back equal and throw it away from a set piece. Thankfully, I believe that immaturity has been lessened with time, more clean sheets are now being kept. It is likely that if that match had been played now, we would have held on for at least a draw.

  So Stoke’s first month in the Premier League ended with the Potters having won one and lost three matches. The first two of the next month were to be a trip to Liverpool and a home fixture with Chelsea, so things hwed little sign of improving soon. Still, we were off the mark in the league, and through to the next round of the Carlin Cup for the first time in four years and hope remained strong that our fortunes would soon pick up, and with them, our league position would rise.

  Next time, September 16th to October 16th.

 

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