It’s Brentford’s first visit to Stoke since 2001 and Billy Grant caught up with Lee Hawthorne (@ORFYDUCKMAG) from Duck Fanzine to get the low down on that Playoff Final at Cardiff. Stoke’s high-waged squad. And whether Gary Rowett will fire The Potters to glory this season.
Stoke left us back in 2002 in Cardiff crying in our soup for a life of (eventually) Premier League dreams. You are now back in the Championship. How was life nob knowing with the big boys?
That play-off final must have been tough for you lot. Don’t mean to patronise but I would have hated playing against us that day – there was sense of inevitability about the result, given the momentum we had on the back of that night of nights at Ninian Park in the semi. It’s not very often I feel so confident about a positive Stoke result in a big game. I suppose we were on the other end of a similar kind of situation in the FA cup final against Man City in 2011. Like us 6 years earlier at the Millennium – they needed to win, whereas you and us that day at Wembley simply wanted to win.
Anyway…A lot happened between 2002 and 2008 believe me – it was far from plain sailing! I wasn’t alone in genuinely thinking it might never happen in my lifetime – seriously.
When we achieved promotion, it came as a wonderful surprise – unlike some clubs, we hadn’t really been knocking on the door year after year. It just clicked one season and we battered the door down – thanks to goalscoring centre-halves, the class of Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller (God) and the love him or hate him effectiveness of Mr Pulis.
The first season up was something special – the coverage and profile whole thing was great for a while and while the novelty lasted, we made damn sure we made the most of it. Believe the hype – for a while, the atmosphere at the then-Brit was something extraordinary. The putting the city on the map thing is a cliché but so true in our case.
Even a mawkish old-fashioned romantic like me sees it as churlish to bemoan the good times we had in the top flight. When it was good, it was great. Beating Man United (once) Liverpool (a few times) and Arsenal Always at home) means the world to Stoke fans – most of us over the age of 20 grew up surrounded by gloyhunters who seemed to disappear in their droves soon enough. THE best thing about life in the Prem – by a distance – is seeing North Staffordshire swamped with kids in red and white striped shirts.
The next best thing – and it never was about finishing high up in the league for me – is that by virtue of hanging around in the greed league for a length of time naturally means you have more chance of signing good enough players to enjoy a decent cup run every now and then – and the unrivalled buzz that comes with it that. In our case, beating Bolton 5 nil at Wembley in the 2011 FA Cup semi and the nearly-very-impressive Europa League campaign that followed will both live forever in our memories.
Under Pulis, we often didn’t even try to win away from home and under Hughes we often got smashed by 5 goals to nil. Hopefully, those events are not going to happen this season. Famous last words.
Full houses are great but they come at a price – diluted atmosphere and loads of empty seats after 80 minutes when the going gets tough.
The media obsession with the top 6 can grate but nowhere near as much aqs misinformed coverage of us – we were called Big Bad Bullies Stoke for years after we ceased to play like that. Oh and Robbie Savage is a dick.
Of course, watching top players can be fun – Arnautovic, Shaqiri, Bojan (untouchable for one short spell) and Nzonzi is nice, even if the connection with them as people isn’t always what it might be with the players who got is there in the future.
You aren’t short of high-profile (and high-waged) player or two in your squad. Do you think your guys will be able to hack it in The Championship?
God knows. I went to Elland Road last week – if that’s a flavour of what is to come, we’re screwed. However, we are not a squad full of finnesse and flair – we have plenty of seasoned players with the ability to graft and get about the pitch so – if the Leeds lessons are learned quickly, I’d like to think we would be no pushovers. However, there is a hangover from the mess that was the last 12-24 months and who knows how deep that rot goes. We might lack goals but we should be in the top 6 if everyone does their job with the right attitude this time. No doubt, we’ll have our faces rubbed in the dirt a few times but I just hpe our place becomes a bit of a fortress for the first time in many a year.
Gary Rowett is well known in this division. And he knows this division inside out. There is no airs and graces about his style of football. It is what it is He doesn’t mess about. Do you think this is what you need to get out of the division?
There is not one way to do it. Under Pulis, we were crude, resilient and ruthless, grinding some teams down, bullying others and always having a player on form to nick a goal that mattered. Cardiff seemed to do a similar thing last season.
By all accounts, Wolves dominated b playing a progressive style. If there is a mixture of quality, strength in depth, cohesion and team spirit, the way you do it means very little.
Rowett has dismissed claims that his football is dour – if he is as flexible as he says, we might surprise you. Then again, we might bore the pants off everyone and all of those Stoke stereotypes can be wheeled put once more.
What players should we be looking out for?
Losing Shaqiri (so far) was the only real blow. Tom Ince and Benik Afobe are probably our stand out talents who can win games but you have seen more of both than we have, Had you asked me this question before the Leeds game, I would have praised the likes of Joe Allen, Moritz Bauer and Bruno Martins Indi to the hilt but as I’m still fuming, I’m saying very little here. More importantly, Stoke fans are desperate to see a team play with an identity once more, rather than a bunch of individuals with no pattern or plan. 11 players playing at 7 out of 10 level will do us nicely, thanks.
It’s been a while since you’ve been down here. It’s actually not that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. What are you looking forward to this season?
I might change my mind if reality bites or if we are doing a Sunderland in front of 15k empty seats but I’ve not been as excited for a season for many, many years, It’s like I’ve been chucked out of a city centre full of tacky tourists , designer coffee cups and soulless chain stores before ending up in a market town full of real people, charming micro breweries and earthy types in every direction. I like a bit of litter and vomit in the gutter about, so the place feels real.
Geographically, we are living the dream with most games within 90 minutes travel distance. We have lacked a true rival for decades since ort Vale returned to their natural state and this time, plenty of needle awaits. Hopefully. Loads of semi-derbies: Villa, Brum, WBA, Forest. I don’t suppose Derby will give us a warm welcome and there is always an edge when we come face to face with Pulis once more, with Boro. I can’t wait to stand on your away terrace for the last time as well. Bring on the freshness and diversity of it all – if things go at all well, there will be some monumental old skool awaydays. More games too – plenty of midweekers to break up the work grind
Brentford are desperately trying to keep under the radar. It’s not working very well. With our style of free flowing football, we don’t traditionally respond well to Gary Rowett-style tactics. How do you think the game will pan out?
I honestly have no idea. Anything could happen! We haven’t played like we know what we were dong for so, so long. Can that be addressed so quickly? I think we were undercooked last week so if we get up to speed quickly, we should be hard to beat. On paper, we have the names to make life difficult for you but I do wonder how big a factor it is to be stepping into the unknown. I expect you lot to display more cohesion and zip but if we can keep the crowd on side, we might come on strong with a freshness inspired by a new manager and a few debutants to galvanise the place. I you lot start brightly though, patience will wear thin for the element of our support who act more like customers.
In my dreams, Bojan bounces back to form and tears you apart. In my nightmares, you are three nil up after ten minutes and season tickets are thrown onto the pitch from our end.
Give us a score prediction
I will say what everyone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about says – 1-1 with a late Stoke equaliser at the Boothen End. Enjoy your day out – drink in the town of Stone. See you all in January. Who knows, we might see you in the play-off final again in May?
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