The Season Stoke Stopped The Scousers Winning The Premier League
2008-09 was Stoke City’s first season in the Premier League after being guiding there under the stewardship of Tony Pulis in a the previous season.
The Potters didn’t get off to the best of starts in the Premier League with their only points coming with a last minute winner from Mama Sidibe to secure a 3-2 victory against Midlands rivals Aston Villa.
Stoke travelled for their fifth game of the season to Anfield to meet Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool haven’t not gained a point there since 1970. Their previous meeting in the League Cup in 2000 had seen Liverpool win 8-0 at the Britannia Stadium, a very one sided game in which the scoreboard operator lost count of the goals, displaying 0-9 at one stage towards the end of the 90 minutes!
Liverpool meanwhile were in fine form, facing Stoke after a midweek victory in Europe in which skipper Steven Gerrard (more of him later) had notched two goals. They were unbeaten in the Premier League and had only dropped points in a draw versus Aston Villa away and they’d just beaten arch enemies Man United at Old Trafford 2-1 in the week 4 fixtures.
Liverpool started the game at pace and just after the first minute they had they ball in the back of the net thanks to the aforementioned Gerrard from an inswinging corner, however referee Andre Mariner (incorrectly) ruled the goal out.
It was lock down after that, with Pulis deploying his infamous tactic of parking the Potter’s Bus that included a goal line clearance in the 88th minute from Andy Griffin.
The teams were
Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera, Keane, Torres
Sorensen, Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Sonko, Higginbotham, Lawrence, Olofinjana, Diao, Delap, Kitson, Sidibe
The return fixture at the Britannia Stadium was a very different story that had the same outcome.
Liverpool produced a pale imitation of the form that had seen them go four points clear at the top of the Premier League at the turn of the year. Stoke were halfway to safety, in Tony Pulis’s eyes having got 20 points of his target of 40 to stay in the division
The build up to the game at the Brit had a very interesting backdrop, ‘Pool skipper Steven Gerrard had been arrested over an incident in a Southport bar where it was alleged that he punched a man over a row about music.
Rafa Benetiz had gone “A bit Kevin Keegan” in the pre match press conference, reacting to some typical Sir Alex Ferguson baiting about upcoming fixtures, this after Rafa had said earlier in December that if Liverpool were top at Christmas then they would be 80% certain of winning the league.
So, the scene was set, the pressure was building and the home team took the game to Liverpool as they seemed to freeze on a cold January night in Stoke.
Delap was unfortunate not to score after rattling the bar early on, with Cresswell unable to turn in the rebound. It was also the turn of the Potters to have a goal disallowed as Shawcross’s header was ruled out for offside.Stoke’s record signing Dave Kitson disappointed the home faithful as Reina gifted him an opportunity with a sloppy clearance, Kitson rounded the Spanish ‘keeper but could only find the side netting.
Gerrard also hit the woodwork late on for Liverpool as the game ended up being an entertaining 0-0 draw. It was also watched by Argentina manager at the time, Diego Maradona.
The teams were
Sorensen, Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap, Amdy Faye, Whelan, Etherington, Kitson, Cresswell
Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Benayoun, Leiva Lucas, Mascherano, Riera, Gerrard, Kuyt.
Liverpool went on to finish the season in a flourish, going unbeaten in their last 11 games, winning 10 of them, including a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford in March to pull the gap between them and the leaders at the time, Manchester United back to four points.
Four points was the final gap at the end of season 2008-09 as Champions United finished on 90 points with a goal difference of plus 44 goals, while Liverpool closed on 86 points with a goal difference of plus 50 goals.
What was the deciding factor in the season? Was it Liverpool being sucked in by Sir Alex? Was it the distraction of Gerrard’s court case that he was found not guilty of? Was it the four points dropped to the Potters, which if they had picked up would have won them the Premier League for the first time?