Memories of League Cup tie in 1993
18 December ~ Just the name Mark Stein is enough to send Stoke supporters of a certain age into a reverie. You need to have been a Potters fan in the early 1990s to understand the adulation the striker still engenders. Stein enjoyed possibly his greatest night when he beat Manchester United almost single-handedly 2-1 in the League Cup second round first leg 20 years ago. "This man's magic," screamed Alan Parry on the TV highlights. "He scores goals others only dream about." In those words Parry was merely speaking for thousands.
We were newly promoted to the second tier. In our minds it was to be a brief stop off, because "Steino" and the manager that signed him, Lou Macari, were taking us all the way.
This, though, is Stoke City. So we messed it up spectacularly. United won the second leg 2-0 and went through on aggregate. Worse, in a little over a month after the first game, both Stein and Macari had left – to Chelsea and Celtic respectively – and it took 15 years before we enjoyed promotion to the top division. That night in September 1993 however, is bound to be spoken of again when the 2013 vintage of Stoke take on United in that competition again, this time for a place in the semis.
It is fashionable to knock the League Cup, but this game is as important as any we will play this season. A generation before Stein, Stoke won their only major trophy (although I would count the Autoglass Trophy, which we won twice – Stein scored the winner the first time – as major, personally) when the League Cup was secured in 1972. It says much for the club’s lack of silverware, but also speaks volumes for our immense pride in our history, that the players from that squad have their own seats at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke craves just a tiny bit of success, and fans are desperate to see a victory tonight.
We should have already beaten United this season too. Ahead twice at Old Trafford six weeks or so ago, and missing a host of chances to seal the game, awful defending saw two goals conceded late on and a 3-2 loss. That the pundits talked about it being one of the worst performances by the home side for years did little to ease the sense of missed opportunity.
A place in the semi-finals is important for new boss Mark Hughes too. His attempts to alter the way the team play have been a little faltering so far, the aforementioned game with United sums the season up in microcosm, with some good and some bad moments. The win against Chelsea the other week bought him some time, moving closer to silverware against a side supposedly in crisis before they beat Villa on Sunday would be even better. Now we just need a modern-day Mark Stein – there isn't a second leg to ruin things this time. Andy Thorley