Martin Smith: Cup defeat was hard to take, but it's still a thrill to be performing on the big stage
IT WAS so disappointing to see The Potters go out of the FA Cup, although not entirely unexpected I suppose.
I was born just over three years after the last time we won at Anfield in 1959, and I am starting to think that I'll make it through my lifetime without ever seeing us record a victory there.
That's not to blame the current players and management, mind you.
Lots of other Stoke sides, under managers such as Tony Waddington, Alan Durban and Richie Barker, have also failed to accomplish the feat. It appears to be a hurdle we just can't get over.
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For the first 45 minutes on Sunday I thought we were the better team. We actually held on to the ball well at times, which is unusual for us, passed it along the ground well, which is even more unusual, and did not deserve to go a goal behind.
That we came storming back so quickly, and then crafted the opening which should have seen us go 2-1 ahead, bears witness to how well we competed in those opening 45 minutes.
Alas, we are often guilty of not being able to put together two good halves in a game, and this was one such occasion.
No matter how loudly the magnificent 6,000 away following of Stokies tried to roar their team on – and they certainly gave the home fans in a lesson in how it's done – we just never got going in the second 45 minutes, so can have few qualms that Liverpool went on to win the game.
I can't recall us creating a single goalscoring chance worthy of the name after the break, and even our throw-ins from both Rory Delap and Ryan Shotton were dealt with all too easily by the Liverpool defence.
The home side, driven on by Steven Gerrard, stepped it up a gear and we couldn't match them once they started knocking the ball about and moving into space.
The glory of knocking Liverpool out of a cup competition for the first time ever and making a return trip to Wembley were not to be ours, so we're now left to see out our final few Premier League games of the season with the target of finally cracking a top-half finish.
That's not to moan too much about going out at Anfield. I always keep my eye on the bigger picture, and I'd always rather be a part of these games and lose them than bow out in the early stages to lower league opposition, as we've done so many times in our history.
Reaching the quarter-finals three years in a row shows how much the club are getting there in the great scheme of things, and I haven't lost sight of that.
It's just that you build your hopes up and you dare to dream, so it's always disappointing when you lose this kind of match.
Our focus now needs to be on providing a good end to this season, and in doing so hopefully iron the issues which continue to dog us.
If there's one thing which has held us back this season it has been goalscoring and creating chances. We don't do enough of either.
We remain the second lowest scorers in the division behind Wigan Athletic and we're bottom of just about every single attacking stat there is in the Premier League – fewest chances, fewest on-target, attempts, etc.
Of course, Tony Pulis is a manager who likes to keep it tight in games, so we're never going to be heavy scorers while we're grinding out results.
That's our manager's approach and it has worked for him so far.
We'll be starting a fifth successive season of top flight football next August, and it would be interesting to recall what odds we could have got for betting on that back in 2008.
I do worry though, that we seem to have become increasingly reliant on set-pieces for our goals, and it's not at all surprising that our goal at Anfield came from a corner.
Matthew Etherington's recent winner against Norwich was our first from open play since the win at Blackburn on January 2.
It doesn't matter where you get your goals from, but when you become so reliant on set-pieces it's perhaps understandable why we weren't able to sufficiently trouble Liverpool in the closing 15 to 20 minutes of Sunday's match.
It may also help explain why Jon Walters, pictured left, one of the heroes of last season, has found scoring to be such a difficult task this term.
In all competitions, he has now made more than 40 appearances, but he has just four goals to his name from open play.
It's certainly not a lack of effort that's to blame, as he remains one of the most committed and wholehearted players I've seen in a Stoke shirt, but both he and Peter Crouch are often left to feed on scraps.
With any luck, we'll use the remaining games of the campaign not only to get ourselves as high as possible in the Premier League table, but also to look at ways in which we can address the problems which have held us back at times.
In the meantime, here's to a rousing display against Manchester City this weekend.
The title contenders have look far less convincing of late than they did earlier in the campaign when they appeared to be unstoppable.
If we are on top of our game, then there's no reason why we can't go out and gain some revenge for the FA Cup final defeat we suffered against them last May.
They have only scored four goals in their last eight Premier League away games, so we have everything to play for in front of what will hopefully be a full Britannia Stadium which can replicate the pride, passion and noise we witnessed at Anfield.