Stoke On The Opening Day
With just three days before the start of the season, Josh Flint takes a look back at Stoke’s recent history on the opening day.
15th August, 2009. Burnley travelled to the Britannia Stadium in their first Premier League fixture, arriving with hope but departing with a 2-0 loss.
In eight attempts, this remains Stoke City’s only win on the opening day of a Premier League season.
The other seven opponents during those eight seasons were Bolton Wanderers (away), Wolverhampton Wanderers (away), Chelsea (home), Reading (away), Liverpool (home and away) and Aston Villa (home).
Whilst these fixtures represent a mixed bag, the total points gained from these games would be two points. Ahead of a potentially tricky opening game against Middlesbrough in our ninth Premier League season, let’s examine what has undone our work in the past that has resulted in just one opening day win in nine seasons.
Out of the eight teams we have opened our seasons against, only Bolton Wanderers and Aston Villa were teams that were not top seven teams or newly-promoted teams. Our third PL season’s opener against Wolves was a classic example of the new boys wanting to take something from an opening fixture, with Stoke’s momentum emanating from new signing Kenwyne Jones disappearing after his early substitution. From being in the game, we lost 2-1 and went on a run of three consecutive losses.
Likewise, a trip to newly promoted Reading appeared to be a good place to start the season when Michael Kightly scored on his debut to put the Potters 1-0 up, until the 90th minute when a late penalty brought the game unfairly level. Chelsea at home has proven to be the one time we have played a top seven team and managed to gain an opening day result, gaining a credible 0-0 draw after watching Andre Villas-Boas doing squats for 90 minutes.
Against Liverpool (twice) we have suffered unlucky 1-0 losses when perhaps our efforts in both games had deserved a point.
As mentioned, Bolton and Aston Villa are the only teams we have faced where there was nothing ‘special’ about the opening game. Whilst playing Bolton was special for Stoke supporters due to the long absence from the Premier League, if the game had been played in the middle of the season it would have had little significance on supporters’ minds during the examination of the fixture list. In hindsight, the result against Bolton (a 3-1 loss) has become memorable for different reasons. All Stoke supporters will remember the loss and the subsequent reactions of one notorious bookmakers, however it will also remind Stoke supporters that a poor opening day does not always mean a poor season.
The result against Aston Villa sums this up as well. With Mark Hughes entering his sophomore season in charge of the club, Villa appeared to be ample opposition for the likes of Bojan, Diouf and Arnautovic to get their seasons rolling against. Again, it became a warning sign to supporters (and hopefully player’s alike) that there is no such thing as an easy opening game.
Poor team selections:
Whilst the opponents have hindered our attempts to win, we haven’t helped ourselves at times. In our opening PL fixture, starting with Sorensen, Wilkinson, Cort, Shawcross, Griffin, Delap, Olofinjana, Whelan, Cresswell, Kitson and Sidibe meant that two of our shining stars from the promotion season (Lawrence and Fuller) were left on the bench leaving us with a weakened hand in our first match of the campaign. The next season though, we started with arguably one of the strongest starting elevens of the Tony Pulis era in Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Faye, Higginbotham, Lawrence, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington, Beattie, Fuller; seven changes in total.
Starting selections aren’t the sum total of selection errors however, as our game with Reading showed with Rory Delap earning an unwanted and perhaps undeserved final cameo for Stoke as he was, in part, at fault for Reading’s equaliser. This season just gone, at 0-0 it looked like a drab game would earn Stoke a point until Steve Sidwell’s introduction. Sometimes fresh legs can inspire a team to the final hurdle, sometimes they can be caught out of the momentum of the game and Sidwell’s appearance that afternoon was certainly one of frustration, being turned for Coutinho’s winner from range.
So what can Stoke do to change the flow of history and gain a win at Middlesbrough? First of all, if the players treat playing Middlesbrough as if it was a game at Wembley with a prize at stake, that would help. Mark Hughes will need to have his tactics spot on as well as his team selection (bench included). And finally, a bit of luck wouldn’t hurt. In the past, injuries have hampered our opening day selections so if we head to the North East with 25 men fit and firing (aside from Afellay and Ireland) then perhaps even if the tide threatens to continue as it has in the past, Hughes will be able to conjure up the rare result of an opening day win.
Bring it on!
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