Sturridge's sting

Stoke City 2 Gleghorn 13, Sturridge 77 Notts County 1 White 9 0 Attendance: 10,204
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The Independent Online
RELEGATION scuffles at the wrong end of the First Division can come too close for comfort to giving the lie to Pele's immortal definition "the beautiful game". This one lived down to its expectations although the Victoria Ground fans have suffered so much in 1995 that the manner in which their first home League win of 1995 was achieved was of no import.

The goals that eased Stoke's worries and compounded the bottom club Notts County's were also the first home League goals they scored this year. Nobody was bothered that neither of them will live long in anybody's memory.

County's last visit, in the semifinals of the Anglo-Italian Cup which they won last week, had gone to a penalty shoot-out. So they had some happy memories, and had Ronnie Sinclair not blocked Devon White's shot in the fifth minute, they might have been even happier. But by the 13th minute gloom had descended. Nigel Gleghorn, who scored Stoke's last home League goal on New Year's Eve, got his foot to Todd Orlygsson's corner and the ball flew past Steve Cherry into the net.

Rarely in the second half did County show themselves capable of staging anything resembling a comeback. Paul Devlin was occasionally clever but rarely purposeful in midfield, while the old Liverpool hero Steve Nicol must have been wondering how he had come so down in the world.

It was still football's equivalent of toe-to-toe slugging, with Kevin Scott squandering a couple of chances to land the killer punch for Stoke. It took the arrival of the fresh legs of the substitute Simon Sturridge 13 minutes from the end to do that.

With his first touch, Sturridge went round a couple of weary defenders only to see Phil Turner clear the shot off the line. Two minutes later, however, Shaun Murphy did not have enough puff left to chase Sturridge as he bore down on the County goal. Cherry belied his veteran status by showing exactly how not to close down an oncoming forward as Sturridge went straight past the stumbling keeper and pushed the ball into an empty net.

Devon White's fine headed goal in the closing seconds was not the kind of consolation County needed.