Top 10 Stoke Moments – 2016
For Stoke City, 2016 has been an… interesting year, to say the least. We’ve gone through four goalkeepers, conceded four goals in a game more times than I dare count, broken our transfer record (again) and signed a young Egyptian winger and welcomed across his entire nation’s fanbase in the process. Let’s be frank, there have been years that have been filled with a higher amount of good memories than this; but Stoke have had good times and, with 2016 drawing to a close, it’s a perfect time to remember the very best. I know some of you will have different moments than those below: the semi-final at Anfield, Joselu’s chip, Mame Diouf at right-back or the deployment of Julien Ngoy. The chosen moments, and the order I have put them in, are based entirely on my opinion. It’d be great for you to all respond with your top ten on social media and see how they compare! So, let’s get stuck in.
Number Ten: Bournemouth 1-3 Stoke
Stoke’s run of form was bleak running into this game: straight off the back of three 3-0 defeats, no goals for an entire month and, coming into the game, they were missing both Marko Arnautovic and Bojan. Despite this, the game versus the Cherries turned into one of the most convincing wins of 2016. New record signing, Giannelli Imbula, scored his first goal for Stoke with a gorgeous strike which was followed up by Ibi Afellay’s first Premier League goal and Joselu’s towering header in a 3-1 win away from home. Stoke were well deserving of their victory and it took a good strike from Matt Ritchie to breakdown the red and white defence – which for 45 minutes included Dionatan Teixeira(!). It’s not often in 2016 that Stoke were dominant – this was one of those times.
Number Nine: Marc Muniesa Goal v Burnley
The Spaniard had been exiled from the Stoke team for months prior to his appearance against Burnley but his revival to the side was rewarded with a clean sheet and a rather remarkable goal provided by the man himself. He began the move from deep in his own half, jinking his way around three opposition players; after laying the ball off, he decided to gamble and continue his run, eventually collecting Marko Arnautovic’s low cross and smashing a volley past Paul Robinson inside the near post. The fans’ favourite followed up his glorious effort with one of the most passionate, raw and happy celebrations seen by a man donning the red and white. The bet365 and beyond bursted with glee after seeing someone who loves the club so much come back after missing out on first team football and producing one of the individual performances of 2016. We all love you, Marc.
Number Eight: Xherdan Shaqiri Goal v Hull
The Swiss international produced an exhilarating performance against the Tigers and scored both goals in Stoke’s 2-0 victory at the KCOM Stadium. While his second strike from a free kick was magical, his first effort to give his side the lead was, in my opinion, Stoke’s goal of 2016. He cut in from the right flank on his favoured left foot, forced his markers to back off from him and didn’t even need to take a look at the target when he smacked a thunderbolt right in the top corner of David Marshall’s net. The word to describe this would be ‘unsavable’, as an opposing footballer you can only sit back and admire Shaqiri’s technique, instincts and the balls he had to take that shot on. It was a thing of beauty and it was a goal fans across England were talking about for weeks. Spoiler alert: unbelievably, this is not the only strike from Xherdan in this list.
Number Seven: Stoke sign Ramadan Sobhi
If there was one area of Stoke’s squad that lacked depth, it was the wings; with only Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri being the only recognised senior wingmen. The desire was there for Stoke to sign a young, hungry talent with bags of flair and a fresh air of confidence. The answer seemed to be promising Egyptian, Ramadan Sobhi and after the news started to break of the teenager’s move, Stoke’s fanbase dramatically increased with the arrival of his nation’s fans. The deal took a long time to complete, with Ramadan’s current manager threatening to quit should his star man be sold but the Potters did bring in their man eventually. The move brought more than an answer to Stoke’s injury crisis, it blessed the cub with a young man who is tipped to become one of the most successful African footballers of all time, along with a fresh and welcome addition of new adopted Potter’s fans who would do anything to support the potential success of their talisman. They call him Ramadona, this could be the beginning of a legend.
Number Six: Joe Allen’s October
The reason why this ‘moment’ is placed at number six for me is that this is more a collection of moments embodied by his nomination for Premier League Player of the Month. It’s not often that a Potter is blessed with such an accolade, the last player to receive such a nomination for the club was Jack Butland exactly twelve months prior. Allen was brought into Stoke as a defensive midfielder but thrived his his new role behind the striker: scoring three goals, providing two assists and setting up six goal scoring chances as well as providing his famous work rate off the ball. The Welshman thoroughly deserved the top award but was pipped to the post by Chelsea’ Eden Hazard. No matter, he’ll be remembered for his outstanding October and as one of the catalysts in turning Stoke’s dismal season around. What a signing he’s turning out to be.
Number Five: Xherdan Shaqiri’s Goal v Poland
Now, there’s going to be some debate about the inclusion of this moment, particularly because it wasn’t a goal scored for Stoke City. However, it was a goal scored by a Stoke City player on the biggest stage in this year’s football calendar and it was a goal that Stoke fans, along with European football fans, rejoiced for weeks. The audacity that the Swiss international had to attempt an overhead kick first time from outside the area with Polish players surrounding him during a knockout game in the European Championships was truly breathtaking and the perfect execution of the strike which saw the ball end up in the back of the net got almost got all the acclaim that it deserved… almost – some Welsh free agent scored a tap in from twelve yards to win goal of the tournament. But that didn’t matter, it’s a goal worthy of being locked away in Stoke fans’ minds for years and years. Truly remarkable.
Number Four: Ten Man Draw v Southampton
Stoke were on a roll coming into this fixture, losing only two of their last ten games and claiming all five of their Premier League wins this season in that time. That streak looked doomed to being dampened when Marko Arnautovic received his marching orders with well over an hour left to go in the match – one that Southampton had been dominating up to this point. However, Stoke did not surrender. The team’s workrate was incredible, their defending was faultless, Lee Grant pulled off one of the most magnificent saves seen at the bet365 Stadium. Glenn Whelan literally threw his head towards an opponent in order to make a crucial block. The Potters somehow managed to frustrate Southampton into a draw and it was a welcome reminder that Stoke City can defend, after being leaky at the back for many a game in 2016. The passion bled through the performance and the fans felt that too. It was one of the most gripping games of the year, and it was a 0-0 draw against a mid-table side.
Number Three: Draw at Old Trafford
Stoke had never, ever picked up a Premier League point at the Theatre of Dreams. Therefore it made it more amazing that Stoke came from behind to secure a draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford to recover from such a horrific start to the season. It was a match where Lee Grant emerged as one of the finest goalkeepers in English football this season with possibly Stoke’s save of the year. Xherdan Shaqiri performed the most outrageous piece of skill to nutmeg Chris Smalling, sent Stoke fans crazy and go viral across the whole of social media. Joe Allen continued his fine form with a true poacher’s goal to cancel out Anthony Martial’s earlier effort. But, above all, the team looked competent at a place where previously their knees have looked weak and the scorelines have looked embarassing. It rewrote history in such a dramatic and wonderful way. It created memories for those who were there.
Number Two: Marko Arnautovic’s New Contract
Stoke have made some truly great signings in 2016: Joe Allen, Giannelli Imbula, Lee Grant, Ramadan Sobhi, Bruno Martins Indi. Despite these arrivals, no signing of a contract was more significant, shocking or amazing than the extension of Marko Arnautovic’s stay at Stoke City Football Club. The Austrian had one year left on his current deal and had a buyout clause of a mere £12.5m; pairing this with the outstanding season he and Stoke just enjoyed it looked certain that Arnie was out the door searching for pastures new and greener. However, after returning from a premature exit from the European Championships, he decided to take up Stoke’s offer and re-sign. The eruption from his fans was colossal, after the recent losses of high profile players on shortening contracts, to secure such an important player so unexpectedly lifted the mood around the club in an indescribable way. An outstanding display of loyalty: long live King Arnie.
Number One: West Ham 1-2 Stoke
Well, I bet you weren’t expecting this at number one. But yes, the final game of last season against West Ham (the final forty-five minutes in particular) was my favourite SCFC moment of 2016. Ahead of the match, Stoke sat in 10th place on 48 points, not guaranteed of a top half finish or 50 points for the first time since Mark Hughes took charge. Swansea were two points below on 46 and Chelsea one place above on 49, a lot was hanging on the final gameweek of the season. The Potters faced Europa League chasing West Ham who had just dramatically beaten Manchester United 3-2 in the Boleyn Ground’s final competitive match. It was the Hammers who took the lead through Michail Antonio and it looked as though Stoke’s Premier League climb was over. But the second half was littered with magic from an incredible side in red and white. Giannelli Imbula scored his second goal of the season in terrific style to claw Stoke back into the game. Shay Given, who had conceded many a goal in the final few weeks of the season, produced a godly double save to keep the game alive. Ryan Shawcross took matters into his own hands and bolted down the right wing with a powerful run which galvanised the anxious home support. And then, finally, Stoke scored their first and only goal from a corner in the 2015/16 season thanks to Mame Diouf’s bullet header in the dying embers of the game. Somehow, Stoke had won. Not only had we stopped the rot, not only did we keep top 10 football alive, not only did we earn 51 points, not only did we wipe the inane grin off West Ham fan’s faces… Chelsea had drew. Stoke had finished ninth place for the third season running and finished above Chelsea Football Club. The season had been far from perfect, the year has been far from perfect, but in the circumstances this was a fairytale ending. It’s a game that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was the happiest I’d felt as a Stoke fan all year.
That’s it, that’s my top ten moments! As before, please let us know on social media what you’d choose. Otherwise, all of us at The Bear Pit TV wish you a very Happy New Year, let’s hope it’s a good one for you, us and the club!
Written by Ben Rowley
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