Back In The Day | Potters In Europe
Five years ago today Stoke hosted Hajduk Split in a Europa League qualifier.
The Croatian side were one of the stronger sides Stoke could have drawn, with few Stokies giving us much chance of progression.
But, in hindsight, there was a clear underestimation of just how strong Tony Pulis’ side were at the time.
It took Stoke less than three minutes to score the first goal of their European campaign- Jonathan Walters heading home Matty Etherington’s cross. That opening match was fairly comfortable, but there was a nagging fear that Stoke’s failure to kill the tie would bite them come the second leg in Croatia.
That second leg was played against the backdrop of a cauldron of noise at Stadion Poljud- certainly the loudest atmosphere I’ve experienced- but Stoke limited Split to long range efforts, ultimately scoring a late goal to send the locals home unhappy and setting fire to seats.
The result pitted us against Swiss side Thun for a place in the group stages and a comfortable 5-1 aggregate scoreline sent Stoke through.
The group draw gave Stoke trips to Dynamo Kiev, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Besiktas- a total of 11,000 miles. Not only was it plenty of travelling, they were also three tough opponents and again, very few gave Stoke hope of progress.
But a stunning start to the group campaign set Stoke up superbly. We were seconds away from winning in Kiev, before coming from behind to beat Besiktas at the Brit. And back to back victories over Tel-Aviv left Stoke needing just one more point to go through.
They left it late on the night, but Kenwyne Jones’ header- his fourth goal of the campaign- resulted in another 1-1 draw with Dynamo Kiev and a date with the knockout stages. Stoke could even afford to lose their final group match in Istanbul- where Ricardo Fuller scored his final goal for the club- before being drawn against Spanish giants Valencia.
The first match was played at the Brit, with an absolute screamer from Mehmet Topal the difference between the sides. It gave Stoke an almighty mountain to climb for the second leg and whilst Pulis’ selection decisions were questionable, our second string side pushed Valencia hard.
Ultimately, around 5,000 Stokies were to return home disappointed after a 2-0 aggregate loss, but proud of what Stoke had achieved through the campaign.
Hopefully we’ll be going on another European Tour before too long.
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