The weather really did take a turn for the worse as the snow fell heavily in defiance to the Britannia Stadium groundsmen, who were busily sweeping and shovelling away the snowy blanket on the pitch. They did a marvellous job in keeping the pitch safe and playable for the players, but many Stoke fans would have so badly wanted a postponement after feeling the cold reception Martin O`Neil`s Sunderland were giving the Potters.
Tony Pulis decided to make three changes to the team, with Cameron Jerome finally being awarded his first start in the Premier League since he signed from Birmingham in the summer. The on-form striker was picked along with midfielders Glen Whelan and Rory DelapKenwyne Jones, Mathew Etherington and Dean Whitehead. Some argued the case for Wilson Palacios to start, but apparently it seemed Pulis wasn`t going to feature him in the game at all, giving the reason that he isn`t fit enough to play two games within such a short space of time. And Woodgate is??? Hmm…
Early stages in the game proved that the snow was causing some disruption to the fluidity of the ball`s pace across the ground, as missed-placed passing and wrong interpretations of through-balls catching out a few players.
Jerome was almost in with a chance however as Robert Huth knocked it up-field for Peter Crouch who won the header. The ball fell to Jerome wrong-footed Mignolet and was just about to pull the trigger before a defender came shooting across to soar the ball up for the clearance.
Stoke`s right hand side of the pitch wasn`t cleared as well as other parts of the pitch, which really slowed the pace down for both Jermaine Pennant and James McClean. It just shows how much action there was at this point, fifteen minutes into the game, if I`m reporting about the snow. Let me remind you while I`m at it; NEVER eat yellow snow! Brown is best.
Another fifteen minutes later and Sessegnon found himself in a dangerous position. Showing a bit of trickery, he tried to find an opening in the defence, but he took a shot and it was deflected clear. Stoke players seemed to stand off as for once, they were frightened of making a tackle. Funny that.
Thirty minutes; no shot at goal. More snow though. I like snow. It looks nice and festive when it falls don`t you think? I know that season has passed now but it`s still rather mesmerising, until the strong winds blow it in your eyes.
Sessegnon finally got the shots on goal stat started as he struck from twenty yards from a Larsson corner. It was wide. A collective groan could be heard from the top corner of the away stand, much to the delight of Stoke fans, not that you could hear them or anything. The place was so quiet I could hear the snow fall. Stoke players weren`t quiet however as they were furious with the linesman for not flagging earlier on Sessegnon`s blatant offside position. He only flagged for a foul on Sorensen to their frustration.
Marc Wilson put in an early cross that had dangerous pace as it headed for the head of an awaiting Jerome, but Turner was there to put him under pressure and Mignolet punched it clear.
Jerome went down during this and needed treatment. It later saw him substituted, which was rather unlucky for the lad who was certainly out to prove a point as he seemd extreamly quick to chase down the ball. On came Ricardo Fuller who received warm welcome into the Winter Wonder Britannia.
Just when you thought as we headed towards half-time that it had being an abysmal display from an entertainment perspective, the unimaginable, and unthinkable happened! Martin Atkinson, the referee, actually reached into his right shorts pocket, and actually produced a red card!! I know, Martin of all people, pah! Who for? Robert Huth that’s who! Huth went in for the tackle, but as the ball slowed down due to the snow – fooling both Huth and Sessegnon – it was too late for Huth to do anything as his momentum, and the slippery snow carried him through. Replays also suggest that Sessegnon jumped over the challenge, just thought to throw that in.
What a ridiculous, outrageous, preposterous decision from another card happy ref. It wasn`t two footed, it wasn`t studs up, it wasn`t with malice; it wasn`t a sending off. The players surrounded the ref to plead Huth`s case but he was having none of it as he turned his head away from the protests. Pulis was blowing steam as he barked and growled like a rabid mongrel in heat. He was absolutely seething, and boy you couldn`t half tell.
Pennant made way for Jonathan Woodgate as a reshuffle was needed, but you could hardly hear the announcement as enraging boos echoed around a freezing, blustery Britannia Stadium, followed swiftly by suggestions that the referee is a wa… banker.
Half time whistle went and another round of jeers and swear words from the Stoke fans who were appalled by the sending off. Tony would have to have been held back from kicking the referee`s dressing room door in I`d imagine, judging by his reaction on the pitch. Apart from that incident, it was a dire, dire game to watch. What can I talk about really? Well, the snow was still falling, and the groundsmen were out in force again, brushing and shovelling. Surely this game couldn`t go on for long, could it?
Second half commenced with the Stoke fans finally finding their voice after being incensed by the rash and thoughtless decision from the man in black.
Sunderland were on the front foot immediately and won a corner. McClean stepped up to the flag and whipped in a dangerous one, but it was headed clear and back to him. He crossed in once more and Sessegnon headed narrowly over.
At this stage of typing, I might just copy the word ‘Sessegnon` and just control and ‘v` it, because I swear I`ve typed his name too many times now. I was to be professional, I would say that he was getting himself involved in a number of things and being a real danger man for Sunderland, not to mention public enemy number two.
Snow was still falling by the way.
Corner to Sunderland and nerves are beginning to show, from the fans at least. Larsson crossed it in and went over everyone. Andy Wilkinson cleared the ball and Jonathan Walterscountered for Stoke, with Wilson closely following behind in support. The cross was put in but Crouch couldn`t control the ball in the area, and it bobbled out for a goal kick.
Moments later, the deadlock was upsettingly broken as the Blackcats scored the first GOAL of the game. Sessegnon (Ctrl+V) played back the ball to McClean in a neat one-two, and the youngster drove forward with pace and agility, outrunning Wilkinson. He set himself up in the box just before a desperate Ryan Shawcross flew in from nowhere for the block, but he just missed it and so did Thomas Sorensen as the ball slotted into the corner.
To the referee, one nil” was all you could hear from Stoke fans, but it was deliria for the Sunderland fans on the sixtieth minute. I`d like to point out that at this point, the touchline, even though it was painted blue especially for this wintery encounter, was disappearing. Snow still falling.
A swift response from ten-man Stoke was needed and it almost came in the form Rory Delap who usually slashes efforts in the position he found himself in. His long throw was flicked on by a Sunderland player, only for Fuller to pick up the pieces, he rolled it back to Delap who rushed on facing directly at goal and central, he connected with the ball well to put in a flat and curling effort that had all hearts racing, but it only just went over the bar. Great effort from him, but sadly his overall performance wasn`t the same quality as that moment.
Crouch got up for the head in the area as the ball was played long, but there was no pace in the effort went straight into the hands of Mignolet.
Wilkinson had the opportunity to burst into the box and if we know our Wilko, he wouldn`t hesitate in doing so. This time around however, his touch to take the ball further forward to give him more space to run was not hard enough. It got caught in a patch of thicker snow and he ended up running in front of it and leaving the ball behind. Bizarre scenes as he wasn`t the only player on the snow blanketed field to do this throughout the game.
Fuller had a shot that really worked the Sunderland ‘keeper from the left edge of the box. Bardsley couldn`t keep up and Fuller merely skipped round him, although it did show Ricardo at his best. Mignolet dived and held onto the ball, if he hadn`t, Crouch was in the right place at the right time to follow that through without anything thinking time.
Stoke were really starting to push forward as they threw all they had at a defending Sunderland, much to the encouragement of the home crowd.
Wilson had a shot on goal but it was deflected for a corner so late in the game. Whelan was to take it and took it well, Crouch got a head on it but it flashed frustratingly wide.
Final whistle and the game ended with another defeat for the Potters at home. Is the Brit no longer a fortress or the bear pit? I could argue that the fans at the moment are nowhere near as good as they have been, and that could be a contributing factor. But they`ll argue that they`ve had nothing to cheer about, which is true at the moment. Anyway, that`s something for me to write about sometime soon. Today`s game could have been so different if that sending off wasn`t enforced, and the pitch conditions on the day were very poor.
Certainly not a good result to reflect on when you have to sit in the car stuck in traffic on Sir Stanley Mathews Way for the majority of the journey home, which usually takes fifteen to twenty minutes – give or take dropping Grandad off – that actually ended up being three and a half hours battling in the worst road conditions I`ve ever drove in. Grandad even pushed the car at times when we got stuck, despite my offer of doing it instead. A ridiculous ride home, and that`s just me, can`t imagine what the Sunderland fans encountered.
Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Walters, Jerome, Crouch
Subs: Begovic, Woodgate, Shotton, Diao, Whitehead, Fuller, Jones
Mignolet, O`Shea, Turner, Bardsley, McClean, Richardson, Gardner, Colback, Meyler, Larsson, Sessegnon (Ctrl+v)
Subs: Westwood, Bridge, Kyrgiakos, Elmohamady, Campbell, Dong-Won Ji, Wickham