Fantasy can’t beat the Reality Star.
As Christmas for many meant hangovers, left-over turkey and the obligatory tweaking of fantasy football (ff) teams, over-indulgence must now resonate. Early 2010, a time synonymous with resolutions, however, has so far been hijacked by the worst winter snap in decades.
Whilst weather ransacked all but the Britannia, an extended holiday for some must’ve been leaden with a touch of frustration, what with only one solitary game to score (ff) points from. To heap more misery on fantasists, Stoke’s Thomas Sorensen (This season’s ff star performer) was injured prior to Fulham’s trip to the Brit, a match that gave a timely reminder of what good old-fashioned football ought to be about.
Tuesday’s match was irrefutably about football in the traditional sense. Incommensurably pleasurable if you’re a Stokie. Less so if you’d made the treacherous journey up from London.
A snow-sodden Britannia again provided the venue for a match reminiscent of great games from time’s past. The charged atmosphere and furore unmatched by any PL game I seem to remember. All that was missing was the red leather casey. When the home crowd get behind Stoke, like they did Tuesday, it’s hard to see them losing.
For Stokies this fixture will not solely be remembered for their team’s finest first half performance since the days of Waddington, but for the birth of a new cult-hero; akin to those that graced the Victoria ground back in those heady seventies. It will, moreover, long be remembered for the moment that the enigmatic Tuncay finally endeared himself to the Stoke faithful, ending a frustrating sojourn since signing.
The indomitable Turk waged an assault on the Fulham defence, a war of pent up aggression, which would’ve had his Ottoman ancestors beaming. This sent a buzz around the Britannia not seen since the giddy days of Sir Stanley. A half-time hamstring strain was all that blighted a near faultless performance, though it has done little to dampen expectations in the Potteries, as the intrigue amongst supporters intensifies.
Scans today reveal Tuncay’s injury was not as bad as first feared and he would’ve been ready to face managerless Burnley at the weekend had the game gone ahead. It seems that The Clarets have gotten off lightly.
Scour Wikipedia and you’ll see Tuncay certainly has impressive credentials. His career goal ratio of a goal in every three games is the mark of a true predator; and note, this doesn’t include his credible 22 goals from 72 for his country, which he now captains. These stats are even more impressive when you consider the Turkish superstar can operate anywhere across attack or midfield, and has often been deployed in a wide midfield role by both club and country. That said Tuncay is deadliest when breathing down the necks of weary defenders, where such skill and desire can have more of a devastating impact. Fulham found this out at their own expense on Tuesday.
He is also known in Turkey for becoming the first Turk to score a hat-trick in the Champions League, the 2nd player ever to do so at the time, scoring a treble for Fenerbahçe against Manchester United.
Leaving Turkey for England, he became an instant hit on Teesside, a shining light through the smog that had descended on Middlesbrough’s PL tenure. Such was his impact both Chelsea and Liverpool were rumoured to be tracking the impetuous attacker.
The first and only match of 2010
As the snow fell from the firmament, Stoke went for the Fulham jugular from the first kick, giving their opponents no time to settle in what were uncompromising conditions. Few teams work as hard as Stoke and they have seldom closed down as hard as they did in that faultless first half. The more the players closed down and harassed the louder the crowd cheered.
There was an ambiance similar to that of a world championship boxing match when the underdog suddenly has his opponent on the back-foot. You sensed something special was about to happen and Stoke did not disappoint.
The excitement was palpable and one that evoked memories of Wayne Rooney’s full debut for England in the Stadium of Light, against none other than Turkey. Tuncay was at the fulcrum of everything that was positive, he embodies everything the Stoke supporters could ever wish for. Stoke fans inhaled a collective breath of optimism.
After a lively start he effortlessly lost his marker and nodded in an Etherington corner. Tuncay, who seemed to be everywhere, then popped up down the right and released Lawrence who was needlessly upended by a bewildered Konchesky: who must’ve thought all his nightmares had come at once. Etherington, now a realistic candidate for South Africa, delivered another delightful ball into the box inviting Faye to slide the ball in at the back post.
Tuncay was in infectious mood and both his teammates and the crowd were responding. A few minutes later and he was at it again, this time down the left, laying off for Etherington who chipped superbly into the box where Delap had made a well timed run. Delap showed awareness he’s not normally renowned for and headed back across goal, where big Mama Sidibe put his poor goal-scoring form behind him to finish things off with aplomb. Who said Stoke don’t play good football.
3-0 up and Stoke looked en-route to giving punch-drunk Fulham a damn good hiding. As it turned out, Stoke stalled in the 2nd period as Tuncay went off injured and the sting seemed to evaporate. The game ended with the home side narrowly holding on for a 3-2 victory. Clint Dempsey’s sweetly struck shot finally giving ff enthusiasts something to cheer about.
A new hope…
When studying Tuncay’s career his impact is perhaps unsurprising. For Stoke fans, however, it has been an agonising wait. Unlike Kitson, Stoke’s previous pre-billed saviour, Pulis refused to throw his star summer signing straight into the fray, opting to bed him in more gently so not to compromise a settled side, and to allow Tuncay time to settle into life at the Britannia. It is proving to be a judicious masterstroke from a shrewd manager who is growing in confidence.
When you hear the church harp on about the real meaning of Christmas being lost it is easy to see what they are getting at. Similarly, fantasy football can sometimes distract us from the beautiful game.