Football: Foley fans Stoke fire

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The Independent Online
Stoke City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Rotherham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

NEARLY 22,000 spectators, the day's biggest crowd outside the Premier League, saw Stoke open a daunting nine-point lead at the top of the Second Division by virtue of a deserved victory over promotion rivals Rotherham at the Victoria Ground yesterday.

It was Stoke's seventh successive League win and their 18th match without defeat, a run stretching all the way back to 2 September at Bradford. Having lost out in the play-offs last May, Lou Macari's side need only a moderately good second half of the season to make sure of going up this time.

The goals came from midfield players, Carl Beeston and Steve Foley, and both were splendidly worked. Rotherham, however, had come with positive intentions befitting a team who started the day in fourth place, and it was not until nine minutes from time that Stoke put the issue beyond doubt.

Indeed, Rotherham looked the more accomplished side early on, when Stoke seemed content to play the percentages. A measure of Rotherham's confidence was the way they twice tried the old Coventry 'flick-up' free-kick routine, as worked by Willie Carr and Ernie Hunt every week on Match of the Day's opening sequence.

Nicky Law, mis-kicking at a corner, and Des Hazel, who overran the ball and allowed Ronnie Sinclair to smother, had chances before Stoke began to impose their relentless rhythm. Dave Regis fired wide after being put clear in the 24th minute, while Kevin Russell's diagonal cross-shot smacked against the angle of post and bar 12 minutes later.

Stoke did not allow their misfortune to frustrate them and took the lead four minutes before half-time. Russell, nominally the right-midfielder, took Foley's clever pass and crossed left-footed from a tight angle. Beeston rewarded his expertise with a header from beneath the bar, the first goal Rotherham had conceded in five games.

The leaders had much the better of the second half, in which Rotherham's Billy Mercer had to make acrobatic saves from a Lee Sandford header and a wildly miscued clearance by Nigel Johnson. Regis, Foley and Nigel Gleghorn also came close.

The burly Regis showed unexpected vision to set up the clincher in the 81st minute. After arriving at the dead-ball line to find his colleagues in the box outnumbered, he cut the ball back to the advancing Foley, whose volley ripped in to the top of the net to end Stoke's year on a fittingly high note.

Stoke City: Sinclair; Butler, Sandford, Cranson, Overson, Gleghorn, Foley, Russell, Stein, Regis, Beeston. Substitutes (not used): Tapei, Ware.

Rotherham United: Mercer; Pickering, Hutchings, Banks, Johnson, Law, Hazel, Goodwin, Cunningham, Howard, Barrick (Goater, 70). Substitute (not used): Richardson.

Referee: P Vanes (Tividale, West Midlands).