STOKE CITY’S hopes of enjoying another good FA Cup run were dashed by Argentinian defender Pablo Zabaletta . . . as Manchester City repeated their one-goal success in the Final two years ago with a victory at the Britannia Stadium.
Zabaletta made the most of an unfortunate slip by Ryan Shotton to fire home his late winner and finish off a move he had begun deep in his own half when he halted Matthew Etherington in his tracks.
It was a rare goalscoring opportunity in a close-fought game which in many respects mirrored the Wembley Stadium showpiece in May 2011.
The Potters had a goal disallowed in the first half when captain Ryan Shawcross was ruled offside as he put the ball in the back of the net from close range, but that was a rare moment when they threatened to break down the champions’ resistance.
Even the loss of their captain Vincent Kompany through injury couldn’t upset the visitors who were unlucky when David Silva hit the post with a curling shot.
It was the first time that Roberto Mancini’s side had won at the Britannia Stadium since the Potters’ return to the top-flight and the last five games had ended in 1-1 draws.
That was so nearly the outcome on this occasion when a chance fell to substitute Cameron Jerome in injury-time but he blazed his shot high over the bar.
City had been boosted by the availability of Shotton and Wilkinson, who had been injury doubts in the lead up to the game, but Pulis decided not to risk Cameron’s tight hamstring as he made five changes to the side that lost at Swansea.
It was the Premier League champions who made the brighter start and after forcing a corner inside the first minute, Silva found the space on the edge of the box to fire a shot goalbound, but it was well off target and did not trouble Sorensen.
Although the visitors had plenty of possession in the opening stages, City posed their first real threat when Etherington hooked the ball into the middle and Jones met it with a firm header that fell just beyond the reach of Kightly in front of goal.
There was more encouragement for the Potters in their next venture into the opposition’s territory started when Whelan charged the ball down.
Having released Walters down the right hand side, it was Whelan who got on the end of his cross with an attempted volley which was deflected wide.
But from the resulting corner delivered by Whelan, there was an excellent opportunity for Huth who failed to make clean contact with his close range header.
City then had a couple of big let-offs as the champions hit back after Shotton had been caught in possession in the opposition half allowing Tevez to break.
The little Argentinian picked his moment to tee up Silva on the edge of the box, but fortunately his shot was charged down by the diving Shawcross.
The danger wasn’t over as Wilkinson was pulled up for a handling offence when he slid into a challenge and from the free kick that was quickly taken, Silva curled his shot past a motionless Sorensen and watched as it rebounded out off the upright.
The Potters, having been somewhat fortunate to remain on level terms, had the ball in the net in the 28th minute following a free kick from Etherington.
The winger’s ball into the box was not dealt with by the visitors defence, but when Huth tried a shot, it fell to his central defensive partner Shawcross who was in an offside position as he tucked the ball away from close range.
Mancini’s side suffered a major blow shortly after the half hour mark when Kompany was forced to limp off with what looked a knee problem, but curiously they waited almost seven minutes before sending on Clichy in his place.
But the Potters were unable to take advantage of the fact that they were a man down for so long and then had to reshuffle their defence.
There was a delay at the start of the second half while Garcia received treatment for a foot injury after he had been caught by Whelan.
Sorensen then appeared to have his near post covered when Dzeko tried to beat him from a tight angle after good work by Kolarov on the left flank.
Kolarov was then in the wars following a clash of heads with Walters, but both players were able to continue after receiving treatment.
The Potters then had to weather another period of pressure from the visitors and were relieved when Dzeko burst down the right hand side and delivered a cross that was met by Kolarov under pressure from Shotton and it flashed wide.
Mancini then showed his attacking intent by sending on Aguero in place of Kolarov, which meant that Garcia dropped back into defence.
And moments later, Sorensen had to make a crucial save by diving out off his line to stop Barry in his tracks after he had latched onto a pass from Silva.
Pulis then made his first change of the afternoon as Jerome was introduced in place of Kightly and so Walters was then deployed wide on the right.
Two further substitutions followed as Whitehead and Crouch were brought to replace Wilkinson and Jones which prompted a change of formation.
It was the champions who seized the initiative by exerting plenty of pressure on the Potters defence and Dzeko caused a moment of alarm when he tried a shot from the left hand edge of the box which flashed past the far post following a deflection.
But once the Potters had adjusted to the changes, they began to mount a late assault themselves with Crouch heading just over from a Shotton cross.
However, it proved to be short-lived and it was the visitors who went in front five minutes from the end with a goal from an unlikely source.
Despite all their attacking riches on the pitch, it was Zabaletta who popped up at the far post to bury a low shot past Sorensen after Shotton’s slip in the box left the Argentinian defender with a clear path to goal when Aguero’s ball in broke to him.
With the tie going into five minutes of injury-time, City had a chance to hit back when Shotton’s long throw-in fell to Jerome following a flick by Crouch, but the former Birmingham man fired his shot high over the bar from 18 yards out.
The Potters were almost caught on the counter attack when Aguero broke forward onto a Dzeko pass, but Sorensen was off his line smartly to clear.
Unfortunately for City, that was the last of the action as their hopes of having another good FA Cup run came to an end at the fourth round stage.