FA Cup verdict: Manchester City 1 Stoke City 1
Goals: Wright-Phillips 11 mins for City. Fuller 57 mins for Stoke.
Stoke came from behind to force a replay after comical defending had enabled Shaun Wright-Phillips to give City a first half lead in an FA Cup tie that left many City supporters frustrated.
To judge from the reaction of many, you’d be forgiven for thinking City were out of the competition. Having to negotiate a replay is disappointing, but the bigger blow was the Sixth Round draw that sends the victors to Stamford Bridge. Once again, if City are to get to Wembley this season, they’re going to have to do it the hard way by beating the best team left in the competition.
As for this game, the absence of Carlos Tevez enabled Mancini to send out a better balanced midfield. Stephen Ireland got the chance to play in his preferred role in front of de Jong and Barry. Petrov and Wright-Phillips were restored to their preferred flanks.
Mark Hughes’ preferred central defensive partnership was restored with Lescott partnering Toure. City started brightly with Wayne Bridge once again at the fore. Barry and Wright-Phillips were also showing more determination in front of the watching Fabio Capello.
For Shaun in particular, the pressure is on his place for club and country with the arrival of Adam Johnson. It was good to see him responding in the right way. Not only did he utilise his extra pace against Wilkinson, the passing was also up to scratch. His goal may have arrived in a comic manner, courtesy of Ryan Shawcross, but it was well deserved.
City failed to capitalise further as they once again sought to maintain a lead rather than pushing on to extend it. There were still chances, notably with a free-kick on the right of the penalty area, but Petrov was having one of those days where nothing he attempted came off.
Aside from a required block by Bridge, City were still looking comfortable until Rory Delap’s intervention. Mancini’s zonal defending has stood us in good stead against set pieces and everyone was disappointed to see the failings here.
“It was disappointing to see we had ten players in the box, they had four and Fuller still had a free header.
“No one got near to him [Fuller] to put in a challenge. Certainly if we want to win the FA Cup and finish fourth in the league, then we’ve got to come out on top of that long throw and deal with how they play.”
Toure isn’t best suited to the physical questions posed by Fuller and Sidibe, and it’s hard not to conclude we missed the leadership of Kompany. Joleon Lescott dealt well enough with the aerial threat, but looked like he was still feeling his way back from injury when asked to deal with Fuller on the ground.
The better shape in midfield initially gave us a good attacking threat with Petrov, Wright-Phillips and Ireland all able to support Adebayor. Once ahead, however, the midfield sought to contain Stoke and the Togolese became increasingly isolated. Injuries to Petrov and Ireland forced changes in formation, but it was conceding the equaliser that really made City push for a second goal.
The onslaught took a while to arrive, but City did create chances as Stoke were pushed back. A Barry header was acrobatically saved by Sorenson, and Santa Cruz saw a shot cleared by Shawcross in additional time.
While many people expected to win this tie at the first attempt, it was never going to be a foregone conclusion. City have beaten Stoke 2-0 and 3-0 on their recent visits to Eastlands, yet on both occasions the Tony Pulis’ side showed themselves to be well organised and fairly solid. In some ways they were due a result despite their mediocre record away from the Britannia Stadium.
All the same, there wasn’t a great deal for City to be afraid of in the upcoming replay and league fixture. If we continue to defend corners well and regain our focus for Delap’s throws then that will be half the battle.
Despite the disappointment this was a better display than against Portsmouth or Bolton. With Lescott, Bridge and Santa Cruz all returning to fitness, there were positives to be taken. No doubt there are bigger tests to come and City will need to raise their game, but both the manager and squad are capable of that. It could well prove better to draw this game and win the league fixture than the other way round.