Chapter 4 - The Debut of Peter Packett
Kevin Bell, 10, was literally bouncing with excitement. He held on tightly to his grandfather so as not to get separated in the crowd. He had painted his face with red and white stripes, and he looked excitedly around as fans started pouring into the 27,740 capacity stadium. Kevin and his grandfather took their seats at the Seddon stand, close to the tunnel from which the players would be entering.
At a quarter to 3, the players began to walk out onto the pitch. Sunderland manager Martin O' Neill, dressed in a black tracksuit with the Sunderland badge on this chest, tried to weigh up Peter Packett as he walked over to shake his hand. Packett was wearing a dark grey suit with a red tie, and looked quite dapper. He had, however, forgotten to polish his shoes.
"All the best," Martin said, extending his hand.
"May the best team win," Packett said, shaking his hand firmly.
In a few minutes, the captains had shaken hands, greeted the referee and lined up in starting formations. Both teams appeared to be starting with a traditional 4-4-2 formation. The referee blew his whistle, and Sunderland kicked off. The home fans began instantly to sing the Stoke City anthem, 'Delilah'.
In the dugout, Packett sat nervously next to Tony Coton. The crowd were not sure what to make of him, and he avoided eye-contact. He kept leaning in to say something to Tony, who kept giving him friendly advice. He wondered who would score the first goal, wishing it was his team. He wasn't sure how they would respond to going a goal down. He didn't have long to find out.
With less than 4 minutes on the clock, the two Matthews combined as Upson passed the ball to Etherington, who began to dribble down the left flank. John O'Shea, now 30 and slower than ever, stuck his leg out and brought him down. Packett was up in arms, yelling at the cynical foul. O'Shea helped Etherington up and apologised. No harm done. The players got into position for the free-kick. Etherington, the free-kick winner, was also the taker, and he lofted a glorious cross at the far post. Ryan Shawcross
shook off his marker, raced forward to meet the ball, and passed it expertly into the back of the net with his left foot. GOAL FOR STOKE CITY!
The crowd went wild! Kevin Bell and Peter Packett were both up on their feet. He couldn't have asked for a better start to his career.
As the game progressed, the action began to shift from end to end. Both teams managed to test the opposition goalkeeper on a couple of occasions, and Packett was thanking his lucky stars that he had managed to sign Craig Gordon. At half-time, the score was still 1-0 in Stoke's favour.
Looking at his players, Packett decided not to complicate things. He told them gently that they were doing ok, and just needed to make sure they didn't become complacent. He was confident they would walk out of the stadium today as winners.
Martin O'Neill, on the other hand, had other ideas. He was not a coveted and well-respected manager for no reason. After the break, the Sunderland players came on to the pitch with a new hunger. They won a couple of free kicks, which thankfully were either underhit or went harmless above the bar. However, with the clock running into the 52nd minute, disaster struck.
Huth attempted an inaccurate long-ball clearance, giving possession away. Sunderland quickly turned defence into attack with a few slick moves which saw Fraizer Campbell put Kieran Richardson
through on goal, who took a couple of steps forward and slotted the ball neatly past Craig Gordon's near post. GOAL FOR SUNDERLAND.
Packett was immediately on the touchline, yelling at his defenders for losing concentration and encouraging them to keep their heads up and get back in it.
On 63 minutes, Packett was forced to make his first substitution of the match, with striker JohN Guidetti (on loan from Man City), going off injured. He was replaced by Cameron Jerome. Within two minutes of the restart, Packett made his second change and replaced the under-performing Robert Huth with new signing John Mensah. The game restarted, and once again, the action shifted from one end to the other, but neither team was able to break the deadlock. With less than 8 minutes left to play, Packett seemed consigned to a draw in his first game in charge.
But that changed in the 84th minute when Stoke won a corner. Jonathan Walters swung the ball in, and once again, Ryan Shawcross
lost his marker, ran forward and headed the ball powerfully into the net. GOAL FOR STOKE CITY!
. The stadium erupted once again. Surely, such a late goal would be the winner, wouldn't it? Packett shifted his tactics immediately to counter-attacking, asking his defenders to sit deep and make sure they didn't concede.
But the drama wasn't done!
With 87 minutes on the clock, Gordon kicked the ball deep into the opposition half. Peter Crouch got on the end of it and played a lovely through-ball for Cameron Jerome
, who took possession of the ball and started to round the keeper.
"Shoot it! Shoot it!" Packett yelled excitedly.
And that's exactly what he did. GOAL FOR STOKE CITY!
Jerome had scored on his debut.
Packett was delighted. He put his hands in the air and celebrated with the wild crowd. The match finally finished 3-1 in favour of Stoke City. Packett had won his first game in charge with what turned out, in the end, to be an emphatic victory.
"He's not half bad, is he, grampa?" Kevin asked as they took the train home.
"Who's that, love?" his grandfather asked.
"Peter Packett, grampa, winning his very first game and all."
"Indeed, love, indeed. Now let's hope he can perform a miracle at Stamford Bridge next weekend!"
Chapter 4.1 - August Fixtures Summary
(EPL) Stoke City 3 - 1 Sunderland
Shawcross (5, 84)
Seriously? I just wrote a bloody match report up there and you expect me to write a summary for this?
(EPL) Chelsea 1 - 0 Stoke City
Though they had 17 shots (6 on target), my defence worked together as a unit to deny Chelsea until the very end, when a beautiful cross from Essien to Ramires deep into injury time could result in one thing - goal for Chelsea. We did a fine job of neutralising their attacking prowess as players such as Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres and Lukaku got average ratings of between 6.4 - 6.6. In fact, the Chelsea defence was top-class, with Gary Cahill being named the MOTM.
(COC) Notts Co 0 - 3 Stoke City
K Jones (21)
R Shawcross (59)
M Etheringtonn (pen 82)
An easy win against a League 1 opponent we were expected to beat. My team selection here was influenced by the match-fitness of some of my new recruits, as well as by my desire to make sure I go as far as possible in the cup.
(EPL) Stoke City 2 - 0 Swansea
S Tshabalala (37)
M Wilson (pen 90+4)
A home game we dominated and perhaps should have scored more. Tshabalala's goal was a long-range thunder-strike that no keeper could have stopped.
Preview for next month
A fairly straightforward month lies ahead with league games against Norwich (A), Fulham (H) and Everton (A), and the Capital One Cup 3rd round against QPR (A).
Player of the Month
Ryan Shawcross, for scoring 3 goals this month and being defensively responsible.
(Ok, I admit I stole this idea from FMRegen, so props to him
I will not be writing such extensive match reports for every match. I will only do so if I feel the match deserves it or if it's an important match. Also, I will be balancing the off-the-field fiction with match reports in order to not overload you with too many updates.