STOKE CITY secured a safe passage through to Round 4 of the FA Cup on Saturday courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Championship high-fliers Leicester City.
Goals from Kenwyne Jones and Charlie Adam gave the home side a comfortable advantage going into the final exchanges, however a late header from substitute David Nugent ensured a nervy finale for Mark Hughes’ side.
Opportunities came and went for the home side to put the tie beyond doubt late on, with both Adam and Jones both going close to giving the scoreline a more honest reflection of the third round clash.
Prior to kick-off Hughes made three changes to his starting eleven, handing Jack Butland his first competitive start, as well as recalling Jones and Marko Arnautovic to his eleven, after they were on the bench during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Everton.
Cup fever was firmly alive and kicking at the Britannia Stadium with both sets of players doing their utmost to give their side’s the advantage during the initial exchanges.
The visitors, clearly buoyed by their previous four successive victories, provided proof that they wouldn’t be out of their depth at Premier League level, should their promotion chasing campaign eventually end in triumph.
Frenchman Anthony Knockaert looked a real class act in central midfield, and it was he who used his pace and trickery on the left to forge the games first effort at goal.
Thankfully, Butland, who looked assured throughout the encounter, was down quickly and managed to palm his strike away from danger.
At the other end, there were signs that the hosts could breach the Leicester goal at will, with the recalled Jones in particular proving to be a real nuisance to the Foxes rearguard.
He had already seen one header comfortably saved by the time he did eventually manage to break the deadlock from 6-yards on the quarter hour mark.
The Trinidad and Tobago ace leaped highest to meet Oussama Assaidi’s delightful centre, and finished with aplomb, leaving stopper Kasper Schmeichel helpless.
That goal came just 90 seconds after Charlie Adam had thought he had given his side the advantage, after being freed superbly by Arnautovic, however, with the ‘keeper out of the equation, the Scotland ace’s effort was blocked on the line by Ignasi Miquel.
The goal gave the hosts a firm grip on the game, and the top-flight experience showed as they retained the ball well, remained patient and looked to find avenues behind the opposition’s backline.
Both Cameron and the influential Adam were unfortunate not to have picked out Jones with clever balls through the pitch, whilst Jones will feel disappointed not to have added to his tally after heading wide from 9-yards.
A rare foray forward from Leicester briefly threatened the Stoke goal, but even the best of Jeff Schlupp was unable to really worry the home side, as his effort was comfortably dealt with by Butland.
With the half drawing towards its conclusion a second goal only looked likely at the Leicester end of the pitch, with Jones again causing problems, but unable to hit the target with another header following a Cameron cross.
The half-time interval came at the right time for Leicester, with the players looking far brighter during the opening minutes of the second period.
Dutchman Schlupp went close with a curling effort that clipped the roof of the net, before a dangerous centre almost found its way through to Jamie Vardy, who would have been left with a simple task of tapping into an empty net.
That said, for all of their early endeavours, the game was effectively over when Adam thumped home a second for shortly before the hour mark with a thunderous effort that struck the back of the net via the post, from near 30-yards.
Arnautovic showed flashes of his talents to tee up Nzonzi from a similar range to Adam soon after, although the Frenchman wasn’t quite as accurate as his teammate, and fired his strike just wide of Schmeichel’s post.
Former Potters coach Pearson introduced both Nugent and Lloyd Dyer from the bench 20 minutes from time, in one final bid to drag his side back into the third round tie.
The freshness of the two aforementioned players added life to the visitors attack, but nothing that Shawcross and co weren’t able to deal with – well for a brief period anyway!
In fact, it was the home side who continued in the ascendency with Adam hammering another long-range effort wide of goal, before Arnautovic’s touch let him down after Jones had put him through on goal.
There was almost late salvation for Leicester when substitute Nugent forced Butland into a sublime save from close range, but the striker did manage to get the better of the England ace moments later and breath life into his side’s hopes of staging a comeback.
The dangerous front-man leaped above Wilson to power home former Stoke defender Ritchie De Laet’s deep cross, despite the ball appearing to have swung out of play prior to Nugent’s neat finish.
Walters, who had seconds earlier been introduced from the bench at the expense of Assaidi, should have put the game beyond doubt after stretching to meet Adam’s superb delivery across goal, however he was only able to flick the ball wide.
As the minutes and seconds nervously ticked away, more chances came the home side’s way to put the game to bed with Adam smashing the side-netting from a tight angle, before Jones nearly added a second to his name after intercepting an attempted back-pass.
The final whistle blew soon after to confirm the Potters’ spot in Sunday afternoon’s fourth round draw, with the management and staff now keeping their fingers crossed for a favourable tie in the next round.