It's snow joke for City as fans seal solitary win at the Britannia
FIRST the good news. Stoke at least won the post-match snowball fight which broke out between the Potters fans on their way home and the Manchester City supporters who were in the pen behind the away end.
A Britannia bombardment is what Stoke have become famous for serving up on the pitch, but there was no such ordeal for Manchester City to suffer before Pablo Zabaleta's 85th-minute strike secured a narrow, but deserved, victory for Roberto Mancini's side.
Stoke weren't poor, but they weren't much better than average and while that might be enough to beat QPR, they'd have to strike it lucky to beat the champions of England.
In fact, the game wasn't the best lunchtime fare for ITV's live audience, but the whole game had a typically early-kick-off kind of feel, lacking the usual Britannia va-va-voom.
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The empty seats seemed to drain the atmosphere from the home ends, while even the 4,700 travelling supporters were fairly subdued until Zabaleta scored the only goal.
There were still the usual pleasantries, as Tony Pulis endured some light-hearted mockery from the travelling supporters.
Mind you, I'm not sure the shell-suited Stoke boss will worry too much about having his sense of style questioned by a gentleman who was gesturing towards him with a large inflatable banana.
The understandable gloating in the dying moments would no doubt have lasted much longer had Manchester City been able to cash in on their first-half superiority.
The visitors were so comfortable before the break that Mancini felt able to play with 10 men for seven minutes before eventually sending on a replacement for the injured Vincent Kompany.
In a league game, Stoke might well have counted their blessings at half-time, tightened up and ground out a draw in the second half.
But with no points at stake, only a replay at the Etihad, Stoke had to gamble on committing men forward.
They duly did, but found they couldn't create chances themselves and were leaving gaps at the back for the visitors to exploit.
Manchester City finally took advantage when Ryan Shotton slipped, but considering Stoke's record at the Etihad, the defender's mishap didn't knock the Potters out of the FA Cup, merely hastened their exit by 90 minutes.
There wasn't any lack of effort from the Stoke players.
Also, by playing Jon Walters behind Kenwyne Jones and fielding two genuine wingers in Michael Kightly and Matthew Etherington, Pulis picked the same midfield and strike-pair which beat Liverpool on Boxing Day in Stoke's best performance of the season.
However, there's a lack of confidence in a team which peaked in the 3-1 win over Liverpool and has been scratching around for form ever since.
There are issues over squad strength too. Stoke need a left-back so have to decide whether to bring one in before Thursday's transfer deadline or continue playing Andy Wilkinson, pictured, Ryan Shotton or Geoff Cameron out of position there until Marc Wilson, who is back in light training, can return to the first team after breaking his leg against Sunderland in October.
Cameron was rested on Saturday, which isn't surprising considering his form has dropped a little having played pretty much non-stop for the last year in the MLS and the Premier League.
Central midfield is looking stronger, but Glenn Whelan must wait to see if he is to be charged after what TV replays suggested was a poor challenge on Javi Garcia.
Stoke could do without losing the much-underrated Whelan for a three-game ban.
He was their best player going forward on Saturday and was only rivalled for the home man of the match by the ever-reliable Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.
Either of Stoke's centre-halves would have looked at home in the Manchester City line-up, but in most other areas the champions had more quality than their hosts.
That's only to be expected, although it has to be said the visitors also matched Stoke's work-rate, just as they did in the FA Cup final two years ago.
Losing to them is no disgrace because Mancini has assembled an excellent side, and it's not sour grapes to suggest the money has helped a bit.
Next year they'll probably turn up with a snow machine and win the snowball fight too.