REMEMBER 2009? With Gordon Brown and Jedward and Rory Delap’s long throws? What amazing times they were.
Here in rocky old 2010, with its austerity measures, its expensive train services and its rising tuition fees, those stars of 2009 are nothing but a distant memory. (Well, apart from Jedward, whose interminable tour of everywhere would probably continue through a nuclear winter.)
No one seems to know where Brown is these days – probably watching Raith Rovers or fiddling about with his wife’s Twitter account. And by the same token, no one seems to know what has happened to Delap’s long throws.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Stoke couldn’t score unless Delap was hurling the ball in for a giant in a red-and-white striped shirt to flick beyond a flailing goalkeeper. Who can forget Dean Windass, in the days before he began earning a living by shouting random phrases into the camera on Sky Soccer Saturday in the manner of Uncle Peter from The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer, attempting to block Delap’s run-up by warming up right in front of him?
There was a time when the very mention of Stoke brought thoughts not of pottery, of oatcakes, of the Sentinel or even Sir Stan, but of a midfielder from Sutton Coldfield and his turbo-charged arms.
It was an attacking threat which still carried weight into the early months of 2010. Here’s a quote from the BBC website’s match report of Stoke’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on March 10:
“Stoke opened the scoring in familiar fashion when Rory Delap’s long throw was flicked on by Mamady Sidibe for Tuncay to head in from six yards.”
An unmemorable goal in an unmemorable game. But it turned out to be something of an historic moment – because it was, according to Opta, the last time Stoke scored as a result of a Delap throw in a Premier League game.
Eight months and 22 league games have passed since then. Stoke have scored 19 goals in that time, a fair few from set-pieces. But none from throw-ins. No one is suggesting that Stoke have become a prettier side to watch in the meantime, least of all Danny Murphy. But they have found other ways to score goals.
Last night’s final match: Stoke 3 Birmingham 2
Reporter: Ivan Gaskell
Tuesday night’s victory over Birmingham, it should be pointed out, was not the first time Stoke had scored three goals in a Premier League game without a Delap assist. They did it in victories over Fulham and Blackburn last season.
But they have struggled for goals this term, partly because referees keep refusing to give them. There was Jon Walters’ effort against Tottenham in August, which was ruled – wrongly – not to have crossed the line. And there was Tuncay’s close-range strike at Everton, ruled out for a non-existent push on Leighton Baines. And there was Kenwyne Jones’ header at Sunderland last Saturday, which might have crossed the line even before Lee Cattermole handled it twice, unseen by the referee.
And so by the time they faced Birmingham, Stoke found themselves 17th in the Premier League, outside the relegation places only on goal difference. Goals and a victory were needed – and they got both.
Not that it was comfortable. Robert Huth and Ricardo Fuller had Stoke 2-0 up with less than 20 minutes to play, and still they almost chucked away the win, as Keith Fahey and Cameron Jerome struck to level for Birmingham. Dean Whitehead’s late winner for Stoke was greeted with relief as much as joy, ending a run of four straight defeats.
In addition, Stoke also move up the Gubbometer, having appeared last on Match of the Day for the second time this season.
Now there will be Everton and Bolton fans reading this thinking: Hang on a minute, wasn’t our game last on MOTD last night? Well, it was the last of the Wednesday night games shown, but the two Tuesday night games were stuck on after it – as is usually the way with midweek editions of the show. Everton v Bolton was therefore on third last.
The moral of the story? If you want points on the Gubbometer, make sure your midweek league fixtures are played on a Tuesday night.
1. Wigan: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2. Bolton: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
3. Wolves: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
4. Fulham: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 0)
5. Everton: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
6. Stoke: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
7. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
8. Birmingham: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
9. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
10=. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
10=. West Brom: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
12. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
13=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
15. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
16. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
17=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Tottenham 1 Sunderland 1)
3L=On third last (Everton 1 Bolton 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony at Millbank, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Nick Clegg, Tony Gubba and some angry student protestors, with music from The Lightning Seeds.)