Goalscorers: Liam Lawrence 30 PEN, John Carew 63, Ricardo Fuller 80, Martin Laursen 84, Mamady Sidibe 90
Stoke City: Thomas Sorensen, Leon Cort, Andy Griffin, Carl Dickinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Rory Delap, Amdy Faye (Salif Diao 72), Seyi Olofinjana, Liam Lawrence, Ricardo Fuller (Richard Cresswell 87), Dave Kitson (Mamady Sidibe 76)
Aston Villa: Brad Friedel, Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Nicky Shorey (Wayne Routledge 73), Luke Young, Gareth Barry, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew
Referee: Mark Halsey, Attendance: 27,500
The 2008-2009 season was Stoke City’s first campaign in the Premier League. The home supporters at The Britannia Stadium were looking forward to the club’s first home match at this level against Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa side. This game would set the tone for their season and the style of play they were going to bring to the top-flight.
Stoke had lost their opening match of the season a week earlier, going down 3-1 at Bolton Wanderers, whilst Villa had beaten Manchester City 4-2 as Gabriel Agbonlahor helped himself to an opening weekend hat-trick. O’Neill’s side were considered the favourites as they turned up in Staffordshire for what turned out to be an engrossing Premier League battle.
Stoke had a secret weapon which they were about to share with the Premier League public. Rory Delap’s vicious long-throws were a tactic that would work on many occasions in their first couple of Premier League campaigns. Early on, it looked like Villa’s defenders were struggling with the extra aerial bombardment. They fell behind in the 30th minute to a slightly contentious penalty. Referee Mark Halsey believed Martin Laursen had clipped Delap in the penalty area. Liam Lawrence kept his composure and despite Brad Friedel guessing the right way, Lawrence’s spot-kick was good enough to defeat him and give the Potters’ their first Premier League home goal.
O’Neill was furious with Halsey’s decision and chased him down the tunnel at half-time. Whatever he said at the interval to his players, they came out a different team in the second half. Just past the hour mark, they were level. Ashley Young’s brilliant back heel played John Carew in. The tall Norwegian striker produced a trademark finish, across the bows of ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
With 10 minutes left, Stoke got back into the lead with a piece of individual brilliance from Ricardo Fuller. Flicking the ball away from Laursen, the Jamaican got the space he craved and from a tight angle, got the better of Friedel to put the home side back in control. Laursen was experiencing an uncomfortable afternoon but six minutes from time, he scored a fairly scrappy goal after Young drove a free-kick into the box which the defenders failed to clear.
It had been an end-to-end battle and a winner always looked likely. Sure enough, it came in injury-time for the Potters. With 30 seconds left, Delap played another dangerous throw-in and substitute Mamady Sidibe climbed highest. His header left Friedel stranded and ensured Stoke’s first Premier League win in a thrilling contest.
Tony Pulis’ side were tough to beat at home all season. Arsenal and Tottenham were among their victims on their way to a 12th-place finish. Aston Villa were in the UEFA Champions League qualification race until a dismal March saw them fade out of the picture but they still finished sixth for a second straight campaign.