Twenty Years Ago Today: Stewart Hits Double as Blues Draw at Bolton
Thursday, 14th May 2020 06:00
It was 20 years ago today that Marcus Stewart netted twice as the Blues came from 2-0 behind to draw 2-2 in the first leg of the play-off semi-final at Bolton, so TWTD caught up with the legendary striker to reminisce about that afternoon at the Reebok Stadium and the other momentous events of May 2000.
Stewart joined Town at the start of February 2000 from Huddersfield for £2.5 million at a time when the the Blues were fourth in what was then known as the First Division and the Terriers were one place and three points behind them in fifth.
The Bristolian striker says the switch came as a complete surprise to him: “At the time when [Huddersfield manager] Steve Bruce got me into the office at the training ground, it was totally unexpected, really unexpected.
“I just turned up for a normal day at training, I was like anyone else on a normal day at work when all of a sudden the manager takes you into the office and tells you something you’re not expecting to hear.
“That was exactly what happened to me, albeit I was a footballer and doing quite well, but I had no plans about leaving, there were no rumours of me leaving, nothing, it was just a complete and utter surprise.
“I’ve always said that as soon as a manager comes in and says they’ve accepted a bid, that tells me the club either needs the money or the manager doesn’t want you around anymore. I looked at it like that.
“I straight off decided to go down and speak to Ipswich and what I liked was that we were in very similar positions in the league at the time but Ipswich had had two or three years of getting in the play-offs and pushing, whereas Huddersfield didn’t have that.
“There was a bit of experience, a history of being in the play-offs, of pushing for the top place for the past two or three seasons and that was really the pull.”
Stewart’s Town career got off to a great start with goals in his first two games against Barnsley - of whom more later - and coincidentally old club Huddersfield.
However, by the time the regular season had ended with the Blues having finished third and set for their fourth successive play-off campaign, the striker was yet to add to those two goals.
“I think I got injured and I was out for a little while,” he recalled. “I got off to a good start at Barnsley away. I’d left Huddersfield and Barnsley and Huddersfield are quite fierce rivals really, and Barnsley wasn’t too far from where I lived.
“To score in your first game is a nice feeling and to score against my ex-team’s local rivals was a nice feeling as well.
“It’s really important to score your first goal for a new club quite soon as a striker because you’re under a bit of a pressure. The quicker you score a goal for your new club, not the easier it is, but the less pressure you feel going into other games. The longer it takes, everyone’s looking at you and you’re thinking ‘Is this the right move?’.
“Fortunately that didn’t happen for me, it was Barnsley away and then we played Huddersfield in my first home game.
“A bit of a baptism of fire really, I’ve left the club, scored against the local rivals and then scored the winner against them to win 2-1.
“Those first two games home and away were quite good. But both strange feelings for different reasons.
“As I say, I think I got injured after that and it took me a little while to get back into the groove again, but luckily I did at the right time, as we all know.”
Despite not having scored in his previous eight games Stewart says he wasn’t feeling particularly under pressure going into the play-offs.
“No, I think if you think too much about things then you’re not going to succeed,” he said. “I think you have to trust yourself, trust your manager, trust your team-mates and play the game you played. I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever.
“I was pretty good at that, which was probably why I went to places and was successful because I didn’t think about it, I just played the game I wanted to play and tried to fit into the team ethic and the team mode that George Burley tried to create.
“I didn’t have any coaching or psychology teaching me that, it was just the way I would approach going to a new club, approach a game, approach a training session. And looking back it was the right thing to do.”
The play-off first leg at what was then the Reebok Stadium - where Town had been beaten 1-0 the previous season as the Trotters ended their Wembley hopes for another year on away goals following a 4-3 defeat at Portman Road - didn’t get off to the best of starts with the Blues 2-0 down after only 26 minutes via Dean Holdsworth and Eidur Gudjohnsen goals.
But Stewart says Town heads didn’t drop: “There’s a theme to this. We were 2-0 down and they also scored first in the second leg and we were also behind in the final.
“I think that shows a lot about the character within the team that in all three games, the first leg, the second leg and the final, we were losing and we ended up coming back and winning or drawing or getting some sort of result.
“I think that was just the character of the team. I think we trusted the way we played and trusted each other.
“That first game against Bolton, we were away from home, we were two goals down and we ended up getting back, and arguably could have won the game as well. I think I missed a sitter late on in the second half, I could have got myself a hat-trick.
“If we’d have lost the second leg that would probably have played on my mind forever, but those sorts of thing are forgotten about when you win a game, you forget about what might have happened, you remember what did happen.”
Photo: Action Images
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