All the chatter before the game from Stoke fans was negative - about their manager, their tactics, their form... everything. That certainly added to the optimism of our own fans, who felt we had enough to go to Stoke and get a result. And that we did.
This team might not have the most talent or the deepest squad, but they’re together, well-organised and have immense heart and determination. By the sounds of it and on the evidence of what we saw from our opponents, they have anything but.
But, it doesn’t matter who you face at this level - there are no easy games.
We picked pretty much the only team that we could have realistically fielded for the game, with Matete starting ahead of the suspended Neil, and unfortunately we didn’t start with the same zip and quality that we did on Wednesday - but it didn’t matter in the end.
Stoke had the wind in the first half and tried to use it to their advantage, putting our back three under pressure with the pace of their front two up against Batth and O’Nien in particular.
Yes, they had chances in the early stages, but I never felt like we were on the back foot or likely to concede. Patterson’s job is to keep the goal and he did that flawlessly in the opening 45, making a handful of good saves when the game was evenly poised.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the trip down to the Potteries to be there in person, so had to make do with an internet stream - and having been subjected to the noise emitted by our old left back Clive Clarke, I think I need to book myself in for therapy.
I’ve never heard a pundit talk so much shit over a sustained period - clueless.
One thing I did agree with him on was his gripes with the Stoke defence and goalkeeper, and after threatening to expose them in patches, we eventually did - a superb through ball from Clarke found Ross Stewart, who outpaced the home defenders before squeezing a shot past Bursik.
Yes, the ball from Clarke was excellent, but I almost feel like we should give the assist to Stoke - their defence, for starters, were five yards too high. Wouldn’t you think that if you had three lads as slow as that you’d ask them to play five yards deeper, and not higher?
Then the goalie, Bursik - bloody hell. Crisp packet hands.
Not that I was complaining.
We went into the break ahead and perhaps you could argue we were slightly fortunate - but sometimes that’s just the way it goes away from home. When you do get one or two chances, you have to take them.
Luke O’Nien and Jay Matete both picked up yellows in the opening half and were brought off at the break, with the experience of Bailey Wright and Corry Evans preferred.
The fact Wright was brought on to replace O’Nien cos he was booked, only to get booked almost straight away, was canny funny... in a sadistic way.
Going into the break ahead and the half time rantings of Alex Neil worked to good effect as we started the second period well and on top. Stoke struggled with the movement of our front two, and Pritchard enjoyed picking out some good passes. Dennis Cirkin was solid.
The presence of Corry Evans improved us so much - we were more organised and our shape was better. He may not be the best player in the world but he does add a lot to our side, and sometimes doesn’t get the credit for his contributions.
I have to give a word to the referee - absolutely useless. He was happy to book our players but didn’t think Liam Delap should have walked, despite a terrible foul that should have earned him a second booking. Luckily for him, his manager took him off before he was sent off.
Dwight Gayle’s first major moment in the game was a huge let off for us - a long ball caught Danny Batth on the back foot and Wright didn’t have the pace to get across, but thankfully for us the former Newcastle striker lifted his shot up and over Patterson and onto the roof of the net. It was a huge let-off.
Other than that, Stoke didn’t offer a great deal and it was us who looked most likely to score.
Embleton stuck one way wide that he should have buried, as did Ross Stewart in the dying minutes. Stoke were there for the taking, but we didn’t have the quality to finish them off when the chances presented themselves.
Sometimes though hard work beats talent, and despite the quality Stoke had sat on the bench, they weren’t able to change their game and in the end we deserved our win because we simply wanted it more - that’s not a good sign for Michael O’Neill or his side, and I think he might well receive his P45 sooner rather than later.
Our fans were outstanding - it’s all you could hear in that second half, and they helped to carry the Lads over the line as we earned another important three points - a brilliant start to the season and one that I fully expected, given just how great this manager and his players are.
Roll on Norwich.