Britannia History Season 01/02
Promotion finally came to the potteries!
In the close season Stoke had made £2.75 Million on transfers as Graham Kavanagh and Peter Thorne both left for Cardiff City who under a new chairman – Sam Hamman – were trying to buy promotion.
The ridiculous transfer money paid out by Cardiff for two players covered all Stoke’s outgoings for the season and we still had a million left to bring in 6 fantastic players who were influential to our promotion and who are still in the side now. (Written in 2002).
Sergei Shtaniuk – Captain of his country Belarus, John Rudge fought for a work permit for him and finally got it. This guy was the best defender in Division Two and is still being looked at by premiership scouts – we do not want to let go of this star.
Peter Handyside, paired up with Shtaniuk forming our strong defence, which was key to our promotion, signed from first Division Grimsby.
The season started off with a loss against QPR away, newly relegated at the time and they had a strong side. This was the first time Stoke lost an opening game of the season at the same time as getting into the playoffs.
Stoke had a steady season but with a lot of injurys and we were forced to sign Flynn, Brightwell, Burton and Gunnlaugson on various loans and short term contracts.
Deon Burton started his spell off with Stoke terribly, missing easy chances and from a supposedly premiership striker, Stoke fans were unhappy but Gudjon kept with his man. This paid off in the playoffs.
Stoke went into the playoffs with the team nobody wanted to face, they had beaten Leeds in the FA Cup earlier that season and were known as a vicious club, both on and off the pitch. They came down to the Britannia Stadium and they were 2-0 up until right near the end when Deon Burton grabbed a late conciliation goal to give Stoke just a little bit of promise.
It was then on to Ninian Park, Stoke have never won away in the Playoffs and there weren’t many people expecting Stoke to overturn a 2-1 result in Cardiff. They had beaten Stoke on both occasions in the season. Rumour has it that Gudjon was telling the players to use his defensive tactics and try and catch them on the break, the response he got was – no its got us nowhere before – this year we are doing it for ourselves.
Cardiff had it in the bag, it was the 88th minute and the score was still 2-1, the Cardiff fans were celebrating the result and striker Earnshaw was withdrawn from the field, he took a good minute or so to get off as he saluted the fans, all looking rather pleased with themselves.
One minute later James O’Connor knocked a Bjarni Cross from just inside the box goalbound, and it sneeked in to level the scores. Then, well into Extra-Time James O’Connor hit a freekick which deflected off Souleymane Oulare into the back of the net and all Stoke had to do was prevent Cardiff from scoring. That’s what they did and they made the playoff final.
The Final was played at The Millennium Stadium on Saturday 11th May 2002 in front of 35,000 Stoke fans and a pitiful 12,000 Brentford fans. Stoke went on to win the game with Strikes from Deon Burton and a defleted Bjarni Gudjonson (perfect) free-kick all in the first half.
A memorable day and indeed memorable playoffs that all Stoke fans will remember for the rest of their lives.
Read the match report, here.