Remember Mark Stein? Up until 2002 he held the post-1992 top-tier English football record for scoring in seven consecutive matches for Chelsea in what is retrospectively regarded as a purple patch at Stamford Bridge. More memorably for Stoke City supporters, he is the last man to score a winner for the club against Manchester United.
Stein got both goals at the Victoria Ground in a 2-1 1993 League Cup victory (United won the return leg at Old Trafford 2-0) although even in a friendly 10 years later the Potters weren’t to be denied their schadenfreude when a 3-1 win in a pre-season fixture saw Marc Goodfellow net twice and Chris Iwelumo (later of guilt-edged miss fame) add gloss in front of a delirious Britannia Stadium.
Delirious because for some curious reason, or reasons, they passionately hate Manchester United in ST4. It’s not the nationwide ABU fad either since, along with Bolton Wanderers supporters, they are easily the most vociferous and gleeful followers outside of United’s bête noire trois Liverpool, Manchester City and Leeds United to serenade about the 1958 Munich air crash and impersonate airplanes. Less gravely, their dislike of United was perpetuated via Staffordshire’s finest Nick Hancock on the BBC’s comedy panel game They Think It’s All Over in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Whereas Bolton view their ’58 cup final success over a decimated United as a badge of honour and as fellow Lancastrians, regard them as a fierce local adversary Stoke, on the other hand, are 60 miles south and have only ever had Port Vale as a nearby neighbour to belittle and insult. Elder statesmen bizarrely refer to Jimmy Greenhoff’s move north to Tommy Docherty’s resurgent Manchester United in 1976 as the origin of the loathing. Although the volume will be turned up to 11 as the artisans greet the aesthetes tomorrow, Manchester United supporters will amusingly note how many chants have been plagiarised from their songbook.
In the three fixtures between the clubs since Stoke’s promotion three years ago, the visitors have prevailed every time with two victories seminally regarded. Carlos Tevez’s volley in a 2008 Boxing Day win was the first in an 11-game winning streak that was the decisive moment in the eighteenth title-winning season, whilst last year Javier Hernández exhibited his poaching prowess to end an unstable week in which Wayne Rooney did a U-turn and signed a new contract after fluttering his eyelashes at Manchester City.
For Pulis and Stoke, their opponents’ slightness is on the menu for dinner. But only if they can nab them for the catch of the day.
On both occasions Stoke proved to be an awkward entity for United. In the first fixture Andy Wilkinson’s crude challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo with 18 minutes left earned him a second yellow card which United capitalised on whilst last season United frantically grabbed a late winner after Tunçay Sanli equalised with less than 10 minutes left. Sandwiched in between two arduous victories was an easy 2-0 win for the opponents back in 2009, courtesy of a Paul Scholes masterclass and a pivotal cameo from Ryan Giggs, who laid on assists for Dimitar Berbatov and John O’Shea.
Tony Pulis has overseen a tremendous job on Stanley Matthews Way, and his assertion that ‘travelling was not an excuse’ following the 4-0 mauling at the hands of Sunderland last Sunday after their midweek trek to Kiev was endearing to supporters. The Potteries’ Premier League record reads twelfth, eleventh and thirteenth – the latter campaign boosted by their run to the FA Cup final with the bonus of a foray into Europe.
Although their silk remains concealed by steel after Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome recently arrived, it’s liable to work to Stoke’s advantage. Matthew Etherington terrorised Gary Neville in the corresponding fixture last season in what was a stay of execution for the United right-back before his January retirement. Only Andre Marriner’s inconsistent refereeing spared him of a sending off before Sir Alex Ferguson withdrew him at half-time, while Tunçay’s leveller was different class the home crowd remains rarely accustomed to.
Manchester United’s first away win of last season’s campaign came on Stoke’s turf. Their shoddy record on the domestic road has been alleviated courtesy of a laborious win at the Hawthorns last month and a comprehensive thrashing of Bolton at the Reebok two weeks ago, however another visit to another uncompromising team doesn’t mean lessons can’t be learned.
Kevin Davies fulfilled his promise of giving United’s youngsters a ‘going over’ when he put Tom Cleverley out for the best part of a month before continuing his mystifying vendetta with Patrice Evra, yet no United player retorted with a reducer (what would Roy Keane do?). Considering Stoke won’t curb their legitimate rough ‘n’ tumble aerial delight, the best method to mollycoddle the inevitable target David de Gea would be to dabble in some clobberin’ time. One of the greatest ever Manchester United sides contained Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona, with Bryan Robson also to call upon. Fantastic footballers and bullishly belligerent.
Ferguson almost always prefers his starting XI to out-football their opponents – even suicidal in May’s Champions League final – and that will remain the mantra for Saturday evening whereas for Pulis and Stoke, their opponents’ slightness is on the menu for dinner. But only if they can nab them for the catch of the day.
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