Football: Stoke focused on an unbeaten run: Phil Shaw reports on the Second Division leaders as they approach Burnley's 72-year-old League record

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The Independent Online
LOU MACARI brought a new twist to the old cliche about taking each game as it comes after a 3-0 victory over lowly Hull had taken Stoke 11 points clear in the Second Division and stretched their unbeaten League run to 24 matches.

The Stoke manager, asked about the strain of being close to making history, looked taken aback. Macari was evidently unaware that his team, who last lost when the cricket season was still going strong, were now within six matches of equalling Burnley's 72- year-old record of 30 League games without defeat in a season.

Stoke will need all their renowned resilience to achieve it. Inside the next month, they meet promotion candidates Leyton Orient, Stockport and Bradford City, the last side to beat them. Should they come through that little lot unscathed, the 30th match would be the mother and father of all Potteries derbies at Port Vale, who will go second if they overcome Hartlepool tomorrow.

'I'll be delighted if it works out that we've got to go to Vale Park for the record, because it'll mean we've stayed unbeaten for another five games,' Macari said, wary after Stoke managed to snatch a play-off spot from the jaws of automatic promotion in the final month of last season.

He is also genuinely surprised by Stoke's invincibility. 'I don't see how a run like this can happen. By the law of averages we should have lost a few, but even when we were one down at Brighton with 30 seconds left we got a point.'

Hull looked ripe for routing when Paul Ware netted after just four minutes. But it was nearly half- time before Steve Foley scored in similar circumstances, while the goal of the game, a dipping 30- yarder on the turn by Mark Stein, was delayed until late in a second half shaded by Hull.

There are no Hudsons or Dobings at Stoke these days, and precious few elsewhere. However, the diminutive, 21-goal Stein and his partner, Graham Shaw, along with the midfielder Kevin Russell, are skilful attackers who bely the muscular stereotype of Macari's teams. Terry Dolan, Hull's manager, after describing them as 'very forceful', admitted: 'They've got one or two better players than us, which does make a difference.'

The real disparity, though, has its roots in the support the respective managers enjoy from the boardroom and terraces. Macari had a pounds 200,000 striker, Dave Regis, on the bench, whereas Dolan's spearhead, Linton Brown, came on a 'free' from Guiseley and is being paid out of the 'Put a Tiger in Your Team' appeal. Stoke's pounds 2.2m debts are among the biggest outside the Premier League; but so are their gates, which average an enviable 15,500.

Meanwhile, as Burnley's landmark looms into view, there is one small cloud on Stoke's horizon. While Celtic's Cup exit at Falkirk might appear a distant irrelevance, it means that Liam Brady can not fulfil his promise of a trophy in two years. Macari, a great favourite at Parkhead as a player, is already regarded in Glasgow as front-runner, with Joe Jordan, to succeed him.

Goals: Ware (4) 1-0; Foley (43) 2-0; Stein (86) 3-0.

Stoke City: Sinclair; Butler, Harbey, Cranson, Sandford, Gleghorn, Foley, Russell, Stein, Shaw, Ware. Substitutes not used: Regis, Kelly.

Hull City: Wilson; Hockaday, Brown (Miller, 75), Mail, Wilcox, Abbott, Norton, Atkinson, Lund, Windass, Jenkinson. Substitute not used: Warren.

Referee: R Lewis (Gt Bookham, Surrey).