A LITTLE under two-and-a-half years ago, Jon Gorenc Stankovic went head-to-head with Leroy Sane and came out on top.
An Under-19s derby encounter between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke was the occasion, the black and yellows triumphing 1-0 in an ill-tempered affair that saw seven players booked.
Stankovic, one of those shown a yellow card that Saturday morning in October, 2014, may have won that game but there can be little doubt that it is Sane’s career that has since taken off.
Now a full German international, the 21-year-old joined Manchester City in a £37m deal last summer that could rise by a further £9.5m through add-ons. Stankovic, meanwhile, also moved to England during the 2016 close season but he has made just eight starts for Huddersfield Town, half of which have come in the Cups.
However, as wildly contrasting as their respective fortunes may have been since that first encounter in German youth football, Stankovic was once again the happier of the two men come full-time in Saturday’s FA Cup fifth round tie.
Sane was brought on with Kevin De Bruyne as Guardiola turned to two signings who cost a combined £92m in the hope the duo could break Huddersfield’s resolve but it was Stankovic and his Championship team-mates who stood firm to leave the Premier League giants frustrated and facing an unwanted replay between the two legs of their Champions League round of 16 tie with Monaco.
“I had played against Sane in Germany,” said Town’s Slovenian defender, one of seven changes by David Wagner from the side that had beaten Rotherham United last Tuesday. “It was a big derby in the Under-19s and Dortmund won 1-0.
“He has done really well. We played against each other only two years ago but now he is at Manchester City.
“Now, though, we have played each other again. I do not know if he recognised me. We did not speak. But I do not really care. The main thing is we got a good result.”
Stankovic’s satisfaction at Huddersfield becoming only the second team to prevent City from scoring in 2017 was understandable.
The Terriers were full value for their replay, as a crowd of 24,129 – slightly short of the stadium record, set when 24,375 watched England take on Ireland in the 2013 rugby league World Cup – acknowledged with the deserved standing ovation afforded Wagner’s men at the final whistle.
“It was incredible to play in front of a full stadium,” added Stankovic. “We are proud of ourselves. We took confidence from our league games after going on a really good run, but now we feel even more confident after this performance.
“It is hard to say who the best players for Manchester City are. The whole team is very good. But (Sergio) Aguero was one of the best, he created some chances.”
Stankovic’s start against Guardiola’s Blues was his third consecutive appearance in the FA Cup for Town. It was also his third clean sheet in the competition, Huddersfield having beaten Port Vale and Rochdale 4-0 in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
With Town’s replay at the Etihad sandwiched between a derby trip to Barnsley and a home game with Newcastle United, Wagner seems likely to select a very similar XI to the one who performed so admirably on Saturday. That means Stankovic getting another chance to impress on the big stage.
“We will be ready for the replay and see what happens,” he added. “There are a lot of players who can play for Manchester City so we prepared (last week) to face one team, though you never know for definite because coaches make changes. Our coach does that and so do others.
“But we prepared for everything and you could see that on the pitch. We will go to the Etihad full of confidence because of how we played.
“We can do anything and we can beat them. We will give 100 per cent and see what happens, as we do in every game.”
As for the priority of winning promotion, Stankovic added: “We are quiet and no-one is talking about us. But we will see what happens. The team is really fit and we always give everything.”