FA Cup verdict: Stoke City 3 Manchester City 1 (aet)
Goals: Bellamy 81 for City. Kitson 79, Shawcross 95, Tuncay 99 for Stoke.
A failure to take chances saw City crash out of the FA Cup in extra-time, with the harsh dismissal of Emmanuel Adebayor by card happy Steve Bennett in the second period giving Stoke the advantage. The pressure will be turned up on Roberto Mancini even though he can hardly be blamed for the squandering of numerous chances.
The manager was true to his word in selecting a physically strong line-up – particularly at the back – to combat Stoke’s style. Micah Richards came in at right-back, and there was a real surprise with Nedum Onuoha coming in alongside Joleon Lescott, while Vincent Kompany moved into midfield.
The diminutive de Jong dropped to the bench, while Zabaleta added a competitive edge to the right flank. With Craig Bellamy on the left and Adebayor continuing his improved form, we were able to dominate the opening period.
It was a marked contrast to early siege of last week, with a subdued Stoke unable to get past Kompany, never mind our back-four. All that was required was for City to take their chances.
Barry missed an early one. Onuoha saw the ball land at his feet from a corner, but stabbed it wide. Adebayor played in both Ireland and Bellamy. Stevie took a first touch in his stride but then saw his shot blocked.
Bellamy had no excuses. With only Sorenson to beat, a poor first touch made for an easy save. The complete lack of form between Ireland and Bellamy became increasingly apparent as a promising start, crucially, wasn’t capitalised on. We could have had four by the interval, but went in with none.
Stoke could only get better, and during the second half they started lobbing trademark high balls into our box. The defence was holding firm, but our passing became very sloppy. Simply keeping the ball in play seemed to be beyond several players of supposedly superior technique.
As a consequence, Stoke were allowed to gain some momentum and the substitute Kitson duly scored after playing a one-two, with Bridge not getting tight enough.
Trouble appeared to be in the offing, but we responded almost immediately with Adebayor setting up Bellamy to rifle home. The Welshman’s celebrations, like his performance, seemed muted.
It was Adebayor’s sending-off which really provoked Craig and from then on he looked dangerous. Had he shown this fire in the first half we might well have been ahead and able to see out the tie.
The law really is an ass if Adebayor is banned for three matches. Had he seen red for a terrible challenge, then yes. For punching an opponent, yes. But some of the three match bans we see now are for trifling offences. It happened last season here to Wright-Phillips. Vieira’s flicked foot was inconsequential, deserving of a one match ban at most for retaliation.
With the game against Tottenham due to be rearranged we might not see the Togolese striker till March 29th! Just when he was looking good.
Later, we saw Huth put his arm across Bellamy in a more deliberate way than Adebayor did. The referee gave nothing. At the weekend Fuller stuck his boot into Jamie O’Hara’s groin with more aggression than Vieira showed, yet there was no ban for him. Did Tony Pulis ask for “parity” after these offences? The seemingly arbitrary nature of three match bans is infuriating.
Meanwhile, City comfortably saw out normal time, and in retrospect this was when they should have gone for a win. Unfortunately Santa Cruz was still looking off the pace so a cutting edge was absent. That the next goal went to Stoke therefore shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was still a disappointment.
As in the game at Eastlands, a Delap throw did for us and this time Given was clearly culpable – coming and failing to get the ball. Following on from his clanger at the Britannia Stadium last week, the Irishman is having a poor run.
The contrast between the attacking substitutes of Kitson and Tuncay, and our own Santa Cruz couldn’t have been greater, as the Turk matched his team-mate’s skill and hunger in claiming a well-taken goal. The way he slalomed round defenders and produced a finish was an object lesson to Wright-Phillips, Bellamy and Ireland.
Roque missed a golden chance to pull a goal back with seven minutes of extra time remaining, and there went any lingering hope.
“I think we dominated the match for long periods.
“We had six or seven chances to score a goal up until Emmanuel was sent off.
“When a striker is being closely marked he wants to make space for himself and this kind of thing can happen Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I thought it was a yellow card at the very worst.
“But football is a strange game because we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t score when we were on top and then something happens later that completely changes the game.”
To see this season’s hopes of silverware ended at the Britannia is bitterly disapointing and it’s difficult to remain objective. If we do then Mancini can’t be blamed for his selection and tactics going into this game. The defence was solid, moving Kompany into midfield was nearly a masterstroke, and we created enough chances to have the game wrapped up by half-time.
The defeat can be put down to a failure to take chances, a poor passage of play when our passing was woeful, and a refereeing decicion which showed we didn’t have “that bit of luck you need in the cup”. Having said that, we still failed to beat Stoke in three attempts and that doesn’t look good for Roberto.