FA CUP 4th Round Match Report: Stoke City 0, Man City 1
Stoke City 0, Manchester City 1
IT was Wembley 2011 all over again as Stoke were beaten by Pablo Zabaleta's late strike for Man City here at the Britannia this afternoon.
Stoke went down to the same opposition and the very same scoreline as the Cup Final two years ago.
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And once again you had to admit that Manchester were the worthy winners.
They had to wait until the 85th minute, however, before Zabaleta supported a City attack and enjoyed the rick pickings of a loose ball to hammer home for a place in the fifth round.
Stoke worked hard on the day and remained largely competitive, but what quality there was on offer today resided almost exclusively with the Premier League champions.
Stoke, making five largely popular changes to their line-up, were playing to a backdrop of noise from both sets of fans.
But it was Man City, making a more modest three changes themselves, who were soon peppering the home goal with a couple of wayward efforts.
And it was Thomas Sorensen making the afternoon's first save when sinking low at his near post to shovel a Carlos Tevez shot out for a corner.
The home side's first real threat came on 13 minutes when Glenn Whelan intercepted to launch a sharp break which ended with his shot being deflected for a corner by Vincent Kompany.
The resulting flag kick was headed over by the menacing figure of Robert Huth as Manchester were reminded who the home side were.
Free-flowing football was largely a rarity during the first quarter of the contest, but Stoke were indebted to a brilliant Ryan Shawcross block to prevent Edin Dzeko scoring from a Tevez break.
Stoke were then indebted to their right-hand post as they stood off David Silva from a short free-kick and allowed the Spanish maestro to curl a beauty beyond Sorensen and against the inside of the far post.
And two minutes later Tevez mis-kicked in front of goal as another smooth manoeuvre left Stoke scrambling at the back against City's superior play.
Stoke thought they had responded with a goal in the 28th minute, but the linesman's flag cut short their celebrations after Huth's initial shot had fallen for an offside Shawcross to sweep in from close quarters.
The visitors were dealt an untimely blow when Kompany limped to the dressing room after pulling up off the ball and was eventually replaced by Gael Clichy as Manchester went three at the back.
But that didn't stop the visitors twice delivering threatening balls towards the far post as City remained the stronger outfit.
Half-time: Stoke 0, Man City 0.
Whelan was a lucky man straight after the restart after his studs landed on Javier Garcia's ankle as the Spaniard lay on the ground and the Stoke midfielder went for the ball.
Referee Howard Webb missed the contact and so did the players judging by the lack of reaction out on the pitch.
Michael Kightly's scuffed shot into the keeper's arms was the best either side could muster during a pretty tepid opening to the second period.
Whelan then tried a grub hunter from distance, but again the City goalkeeper was unruffled.
The City crowd had their wish when Sergio Aguero was thrown on to try and raise the X-factor.
It was Silva producing a flash of class, however, when his dinked ball over the top forced Sorensen to save just as Gareth Barry was shaping to round the Danish goalkeeper.
Cameron Jerome's appearance and early run down the right flank enlivened a home crowd starting to believe again.
For while Manchester were still creating the pressure, they weren't carving out the same quota of chances they had in the first half.
Mind you, Dzeko was close with a cross shot and then Aguero slammed another into the side-netting.
The game entered the final 10 minutes with Stoke suddenly mounting some welcome pressure and Peter Crouch heading narrowly over with his first contribution since rising from the bench.
But it was the other City grabbing an 85th minute winner when they broke through the middle for Silva and Aguero to combine and roll the ball into the danger area.
And when Ryan Shotton slipped fatally, there was no-one to stop ZABALETA skating in just right of goal to stroke past a helpless Sorensen.
The addition of five extra minutes was going up on the board just as the ball broke from a long throw for Jerome to hook horribly into the Boothen End as salvation beckoned for Stoke.
Stoke: Sorensen, Shotton, Wilkinson (Whitehead,73), Shawcross, Huth, Kightly (Jerome,67), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington, Walters, Jones (Crouch,73). Subs: Nash, Owen, Adam, Upson.
Man City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov (Aguero,62), Kompany (Clichy,40), Lescott, Milner, Garcia, Barry, Silva, Dzeko, Tevez (Rodwell,86). Subs: Hart, Sinclair, Rekik, Lopes.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorks).
Cards: Stoke - Shotton (foul,54). Man City - Kolarov (foul,34), Milner (foul,78), Dzeko (ungentlemanly conduct,87).