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Saturday 3rd April

Off to watch Stoke vs Hull for talkSPORT after the most relaxing Good Friday with my beautiful wife Natalie – we ate a fabulous pub lunch at the ‘posh-but-not-stuck-up’ (as she so perfectly put it) Orange Tree pub just outside Solihull, returned home to watch Tom Hanks doing a very plausible Russian accent in ‘The Terminal’ (very enjoyable) and followed that up with an evening at a comedy club where we were introduced to the delights of how to make a child’s spelling toy swear like a docker by the extremely talented Phil Butler (I shan’t explain – you’ll find it on youtube)

After such a day packed with incident, I drove up through the roadworks festival on the M6 North wondering if my afternoon at the Brittania Stadium could possibly match it. It started well with the Shepherds Pie on offer in the Press Lounge upon my arrival. I must say at this point that the food journalists and broadcasters are served up at football grounds is very much a hit-and-miss affair and is usually approached with some trepidation by myself and my colleagues, despite it being free. Picky eh?

At Birmingham City for example, the club has just started to drag itself out of the Dark Ages and serve their hot dishes on proper plates with real cutlery. Until recently at the Blues, paper plates, knives & forks from Crash Bang Wallop were the order of the day…as was the food judging by the quality. Imagine being served with a sausage and mash concoction drizzled with gravy on a plate flimsier than one of Cheryl Cole’s stage outfits – with all that Bisto slopped on there, preventing spillage onto the floor was rather like trying to keep a Malteser on a slab of marble.

Add to that the chairs at St Andrews which have a small table attached to one arm for the purpose of resting your work folder rather than placing said plate – the unsuspecting victim realises all too late that the plate sits at a 20 degree angle - and the eating experience is not a pleasant one.

On the contrary, you get too much choice at other places – my one visit to Stamford Bridge left me wide-eyed at what Fleet Street’s finest could gorge themselves on. Not just one hot dish to try, but a choice of several, mountains of sandwiches, wraps and salads - no wonder my radio buddy Jason Cundy is so…fond of the place :o)

But back to the Potteries, and what turned out to be an absolutely legendary Shepherds Pie at Stoke’s media centre. ‘That’s hit the target nicely’ I said to myself as I took my seat in the main stand to file my first match preview at just after 2pm.

What a shame, then, that neither Stoke nor Hull could hit the target nicely or nastily for the ensuing 90 minutes. Well, that’s being a tad unfair to Stoke, who won 2-0 and have a player in Ricardo Fuller who possesses genuine quality going forward. But Hull City were poor, and surprisingly lacking in urgency for a team deep in the brown stuff at the foot of the table. Even the notoriously rabble-rousing crowd at the Brit didn’t have to strain their collective larynxes too hard, preferring instead to huddle together for warmth. It’s supposed to be spring for goodness sake! Always cold & windy at Stoke, even in pre-season I’ve found – could’ve sworn I looked to my left at half time at the Stanley Matthews statue in view between the main stand and the Boothen End and saw his bronze shorts fluttering in the stiff breeze.

Much merriment amongst the Midlands football writers there about talkSPORT’s running of a story on Tuesday claiming that Martin O’Neill was quitting Aston Villa as manager – I of course got teasingly blamed by them for causing it all, when in reality, at the time the story broke, I was at the Wacky Warehouse settling an argument between the twins about whose custard cream was whose, m’lud. Still the question remains now the dust is settling as to whether there is any smoke without fire where that story is concerned. One to watch in the close season I think.

Spoke to both Tony Pulis and Iain Dowie in their post-match interviews. I find Tony to be good fun and disarmingly honest in his assessment of games. What a job he’s done there - and yet you still sense the inner fire burning within him to take Stoke on still further. For me, that all hinges on the quality of player he can persuade to join him in the North Midlands and eschew the bright lights of an established London or Manchester-based Premier League side. It can’t be easy to sell Stoke over, say, Everton or Spurs, but with Tuncay and Etherington already there, perhaps he has the necessary silver tongue.

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