Days Gone By | Stoke City: The Seeds of Rivalry
The Bluebirds return from the World Cup recess with a trip to 17th placed Stoke City this Saturday, with the Potters sitting two places and just one point above Mark Hudson’s side.
It’s a fixture that fans of both sides have enjoyed with greater vigour over the past couple of decades and a rivalry that was ignited by a return from oblivion of the fixture some 23 years ago…
Twenty years had elapsed since the two sides had met in League action when Frank Burrows’ Bluebirds hosted a soon-to-be Icelandic-owned Stoke at Ninian Park in October 1999. The visitors won 2-1 on the day, repeating the scoreline later that season on home soil following the reported £3.5m takeover of the club by a takeover headed by Gunnar Gíslason.
In truth, Stoke at this time were far too strong for a City side treading water somewhat in the third tier. But, like the Potters - who would finish the campaign with promotion to the First Division - City were also evolving off the field and, from a Bluebirds historical perspective, of key interest were a couple of names on the opposition teamsheet that season who would go on to become Ninian Park icons: Peter Thorne and Graham Kavanagh.
Perhaps no two players encapsulated the direction in which Cardiff City were heading at the start of the new millennium than these two and, specifically, their big money acquisitions. In 1999, the thought of having such established second tier players with Premier League experience in our ranks was laughable. And those two meetings during the 1999/2000 season were tinged for many with slight feelings of envy at what Stoke City had and what Cardiff City so desperately aspired to have.
Thorney and Kav both linked up with Alan Cork’s City side in 2001 and it was this season that a modern rivalry between the two sides really began, as the Bluebirds began to make real strides forward.
The 2001/02 season was, in essence, City’s dry run at promotion to the Championship; Stoke City were the side that ensured they would need another shot at it the following year.
The two sides met in the Play-Off semi-final at the end of a season in which both pushed for automatic promotion until the final day.
City ended the campaign in fourth spot, just a point off second placed Reading, whilst Stoke finished up in fifth, three points behind the Bluebirds. In the regular season, the teams played out a 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium, before City registered a 2-0 victory in the Welsh capital.
As for Thorne and Kavanagh, they were two of City’s stand-out performers that term. The former ended the campaign with eight goals in 28 League and Cup matches, the latter with 15 goals in 50 appearances from a central midfield berth.
And it all looked to be going to plan when the two featured in the first-leg, away from home. On the day, Robert Earnshaw and Leo Fortune-West scored in a 2-1 victory on Stoke’s patch to put the fate of the two-legged affair firmly in their hands before a return to Wales.
Sadly, a James O’Connor goal in the 90th minute took the second leg into extra time, before Souleymane Oulare’s 115th minute goal and Spencer Prior’s red card a minute later condemned the Bluebirds to defeat.
In its latter years, this marked one of Ninian Park’s final truly gloomy nights. But the season itself marked great progression for a side that would only need one more shot at the division before leaping gloriously out of it.
As for our two protagonists, Thorne would stay with the Bluebirds until the summer of 2005, scoring 51 goals in 143 appearances. As for Kavanagh, one of the Club’s greatest captains, he registered 31 times in 165 appearances. Both would sit comfortably in a Bluebirds Hall of Fame.