Football: Stein stirs hesitant Stoke

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The Independent Online
Stoke City. . . . . . 1

Preston North End. . .0

THE coronation of Stoke as Second Division champions, and even confirmation of their promotion, will have to wait a little longer.

Mark Stein's 32nd goal of the season in the second half of a non-vintage performance was enough to edge Stoke closer to the title, but results elsewhere mean they still need to beat Plymouth on Wednesday night to make sure of first place and First Division football next season.

Perhaps it is the proximity of the prize, but Stoke were anything but assured yesterday. On the evidence of the first half, recent home defeats by Blackpool and Hartlepool could have been followed by a similar embarrassment at the hands of an equally lowly Preston side.

With their winger, Lee Ashcroft, the most creative player on view, Preston had the better chances, while a ponderous Stoke were limited to a couple of long-range efforts from Nigel Gleghorn.

Stoke's frustration showed in the booking of Steve Foley for manhandling the referee. Graham Shaw was also booked, in the second half, but by then Stein had scored a decisive goal out of character with a poor game. Even here Stoke needed a little help, Richard Lucas, the Preston full-back, slipping as he went to tidy up Vince Overson's headed clearance. There was nothing fortunate about Stein's finish, however. He cut in on goal and angled his shot inside the far post.

After that, he had two good efforts well saved and put another past an upright. His one-man assault could not turn an undistinguished display into the stuff of champions, so it was not inappropriate that the victories of Port Vale and Bolton ensured that Stoke and the 18,000 fans who again demonstrated their appetite for football at a higher level will have to bide their time.

Stoke City: P Fox; J Butler, L Sandford, I Cranson, V Overson, N Gleghorn, S Foley, D Kevan, M Stein, G Shaw, P Ware. Subs not used: D Regis, K Russell. Manager: L Macari.

Preston North End: S Farnworth; A Callaghan, R Lucas, G Ainsworth, R Kidd, C Greenall, L Cartwright (J Tinkler, 54 min), M Leonard, L Watson, S Burton, L Ashcroft. Sub not used: D Flitcroft. Manager: J Beck.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Goal: Stein (1-0, 55 min).