Mansfield Town capped their first ever game in Division Two by firing two goals past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to seal a fine win over recently-relegated Stoke City.
The Field Mill side turned in a magnificent performance as they adjusted to their new footballing surroundings in relative comfort to leave the bumper crowd full of optimism for the long season ahead.
Looking back on the fixture, defender Kevin Bird said: “Stoke had a lot of big name players in their team that day like Peter Shilton and it was a bit daunting to be going up against people like that.
“We just focused on ourselves and believed in our own abilities. I think playing against people like that made us all better players and made us a better team.
“We had some good players in that season and players who could score goals. We were able to get at the big teams and attack them which helped us.”
It was goals from newcomers Dave Syrett and Pat Sharkey which had helped to swing the opening-day fixture when it was at a finely poised stage.
Syrettt showed a superb striker’s instinct as he latched on to a terrible backpass by Alan Dodd, before rifling the ball past Shilton to put Stags into the lead.
It was a goal that left the legendary England shot-stopper impressed, with Shilton saying after the game: “How he got it past me I do not know. I was perfectly placed to deny him any sight of goal.”
But score he did. And six minutes later it got even better for Mansfield Town as Stags showed they fully deserved a place in English football’s second tier by doubling their lead.
Sharkey had to wait all of four minutes to take the penalty, which had been awarded after Denis Smith had handled the ball when challenged by Ernie Moss, after the travelling Stoke fans showed their frustrations by invading the pitch.
But Skarkey showed his cool and cracked the penalty home, despite the best efforts of Shilton who got his finger-tips to the ball.
The two players had deserved their goals, with the workrate of Syrett standing out as he gave centre-half Smith a torrid time for 90 minutes.
Mansfield more than merited their solid lead and really should have been in front before then, with Johnny Miller unlucky to see his effort crash against the woodwork with Shilton well beaten inside the first 10 minutes.
Added Bird: “As the game went on we seemed to grow in confidence. Winning the first game of the season in this fashion helped to settle us down for the rest of the season ahead, it’s just a shame we ended up getting relegated.”
At the other end, City had been unlucky not to hit the front on 22 minutes when Rod Arnold needed two attempts to prevent Dave Gregory from taking advantage of a superb pass by John Lumsden.
Howard Kendall, who went on to manage Everton, was also cursing the Stags goalpost two minutes later when he thumped an effort against the post.
Stoke continued to press hard and Denis Smith was inches away with a shot, but these were the only alarms the confident home side had faced.
Commanding defender Bird appeared to have made the game safe when he headed home from a corner. But the celebrations were cut short after Bird was ruled to have fouled Shilton.
With just under 10 minutes to go the struggling visitors were awarded a vital lifeline from the penalty spot, which was taken by Alec Lindsay, to set up a very tense finish.
But Stags gritted their teeth and resolutely held on to claim their first ever victory in the second flight of English football.
The game also presented Bird with a new challenge after he had been selected at right-back instead of his more accustomed central defensive position.
“I was not happy about being picked at right-back because I was a central defender,”he said. “The boss thought I would be able to get forward and score goals from that position and we had words, but what can you do?
“I just wanted to play. As a player all you want to do is play and I would have played anywhere.
“I have good memories of this game and the season. Being able to play against the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Peter Shilton was a tremendous feeling.”
MANSFIELD TOWN: Arnold, Bird, Wood, McEwan, Mackenzie, C. Foster, Sharkey, Moss, Syrett, Hodgson, Miller. Substitute: Randall.
MATCH: Stags 2 Stoke City 1