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02/03: Preview: Stoke City
Opposition opinion
by Dave Wallace of Potters Underground

What happened last season?
After the dissapointment of the previous season's play-offs, Manager Gudjon Thordarson decided to ditch the much criticsied 5-3-2 wing back system and go for a 4-4-2 formation. Also, he and the board cut short his contract so he just had a season left to get the club promoted.

The opening month saw a mixed bag of results in the league, with Stoke ending the month in mid table. We were also eliminated from the first round of the Worthington Cup after a penalty shootout was needed against Oldham Athletic at the Britannia Stadium. Neil Cutler made his first competitive start for Stoke, and put in a fine display, including two saves during the shootout before young Karl Henry shot wide of the target.

September saw the controversial sale of the club's main striker Peter Thorne to Cardiff City for a 1.7m fee, although he did end his Stoke days with a bang; equalising in the dying seconds of the Huddersfield game to earn a point at the death. The following game, against Reading, saw a few people boycotting, but those who chose not to were treated to an exceptional performance from Stoke, as a Peter Hoekstra inspired performance saw Stoke pick up a 2-0 victory.

Goalkeeper Gavin Ward made a right howler in the next league game, an evening tie against Brighton at the Withdean Stadium. "Wardy" weakly punched clear in the 94th minute, straight into the path of a Brighton player (surprisingly not Bobby Zamora) who simply placed the ball into the net. Gavin was dropped for the trip to Bury, and Neil Cutler kept three clean sheets in a row, as Stoke began to get some results under their belts.

The first derby game of the season took place in October, as Stoke visited Vale Park. A full away following of Stokies saw Vale take the lead before "Big Chris" Iwelumo made a name for himself by stepping off the bench and scoring soon after.

November saw Stoke entertain Brentford in a 'six-pointer', and a 3-2 scoreline to Stoke saw the Potters within touching distance of the top spot in Division Two. So, off to the JJB Stadium the following Tuesday, but without midfield mistro Brynjar Gunnarsson, who's wife was in labour. Brynjar was sorely missed and Stoke slipped up 1-6. Even a 2-0 scoreline could only be achieved against non-league Lewes in the first round of the F.A. Cup as Stoke's form deteriorated.

December began with a rare second round apperance in the second round of the F.A Cup and once again, Stoke dissapointed as a 1-1 scoreline could only be recorded against bottom of the league Halifax at the Shay. A Couple of days later, and Stoke made easy work of the to be relegated Halifax and won 3-0, with Bjarni Gudjonsson putting in a good performance.

Once again the "win this and we will go top" cloud hung above Stoke's heads again for the visit of Wycombe Wanderers just before Christmas. If Stoke could win by more than three goals then we would hit top spot, and a fine 5-1 victory put Stoke top of the shop.

A fiery reception was in store for the return of Graham Kavanagh as Cardiff were the next to visit the Britannia Stadium. However, Peter Thorne was injured so there was not a return visit for "Thorney". A superb free kick from the visitors ensured the points were shared.

Stoke went into the New Year and the injuries were mounting up and Gudjon Thordarson's squad was deteriorating. A few unconvincing performances, despite fielding a few fringe first teamers were had before the humiliating defeat away to Bournemouth.

Stoke got back to winning ways however against bottom side Cambridge United, and recorded a flattering 5-0 scoreline, the biggest win of the season for Stoke. A few questions were raised though, especially with the Potteries Derby coming up the following Sunday.

Stoke lost to Port Vale 0-1 with a diabolical performance, and then went on to record two more games with no goals for themselves. The end of February however saw Stoke hit Four past Bury, before the visit of Brighton.

As Stoke celebrated the 30 Years Anniversary of winning the League Cup, the clubs finest moment, the current squad put in a performance to match the occasion in front of the TV cameras. A 3-1 scoreline was recorded as Stoke took advantage of a Bobby Zamora-less Brighton.

The final two months of the season saw Stoke putting in some unconvincing performances, and the loan signing of Premiership Deon Burton was questioned as he only managed to find the scoreline twice, and they were in the same game. The final day of the season saw a 1-1 draw at Ashton Gate against Bristol City, and the play off semi finals paired Stoke with Cardiff, well fate meant it was always meant to be did'nt it.

In the first leg at the Britannia Stadium it was looking all done and dusted as far as Cardiff were concerned, as the Bluebirds were 2-0 up. But Deon Burton stepped off the bench and handed Stoke a lifeline as he fired in from close range.

Stoke went to Ninian Park the following Wednesday, and with one minute on the clock, the Cardiff boys thinking the job was done, despite Stoke dominating the game, up popped James O' Connor to fire home a low cross into the centre from Bjarni Gudjonsson. Cardiff then had to go on and play for penalties as they had already subbed off their main attackers, but the next action was like something from an issue of Roy of the Rovers. Souleymane Oulare, who weeks after been signed after the club had a near death experience when a blood clot was discovered on his lung, has been thrown on the pitch with 30 minutes to go. In the 115th minute, Stoke get a free kick, and its obvious that Stoke were going to bend it around the wall. The 'keeper guesses correctly, but up pops Souleymane, and the ball deflects in off his arse. Like I said, Roy of the Rovers stuff.

So, Saturday 11th May, and 33,000 Stokies travel to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to see Brentford vs. Stoke City. Stoke had been handed the unlucky dressing room, but had the mental advantage of wearing their home kit. Deon Burton popped up again to score and a Ben Burgess own goal put Stoke 2-0 up before the break. The second half wasnt as entertaining as the first, but it didnt matter as Stoke achieved their promotion to the first division.

However, four days later, Gudjon Thordarson's contract was not renewed, and despite protests for his reinstatement, the board didnt budge, and appointed Steve Cotterill from Cheltenham Town as the new boss

What's going to happen next season?
I think the main aim of this season will be to consolidate in the division, although when you look how Preston, Burnley and Milwall have done over the last few seasons after being promoted, who knows?

We have a good manager with plenty of achievements under his belt, depsite the fact that they are at a lower level. A change of manager and approach may see Stoke having the bottle to take it all the way, and avoid the slip ups that can't be afforded at this level of play.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
There's loads, the closest to the ground would be the Harvester and Power League bars, but Stokies do have a reputation so be careful!

What's the nearest railway station?
Stoke Station.

Where is the best place to park?
The ground can be used, but it costs 4 and must be booked in advance. Power League has some parking too at about 3. There are places in Stoke town centre itself though which can be checked out.

"Stoke are in talks with Leeds to swap Bjarni Gudjonsson and Andy Cook for Bowyer and Keane with no cash changing hands - or perhaps a small payment of a million or so to Stoke"

"When you come to the Britannia Stadium, even if there is a heatwave, bring several sets of thermals. Even our Swedish full back wore woolly gloves most of the time!"

"watch out for out new stroke partnership: sol oulare and chris greenacre.also if this player is fit watch put for former dutch international :peter hoekstra (rips defenders if and when he comes on)"

"Dadason is by far the worse player i have ever seen in a Stoke top.."

"the above articles (Worst eleven nominations) are responsible for some of the lowest moments of my life and have seriously tested my love for the Potters on too many dark days"

"That Vialli did a good job didn't he?"

"I struggled to cut my list down to 11 worst players!"