STOKE CITY'S dreams of returning to Wembley for a second successive season came to an end at Anfield on Saturday... as Stewart Downing's second half strike secured Liverpool a spot in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup.
The brave Potters more than matched their more illustrious opponents throughout the encounter, particularly during a superb opening 45 minutes in which Peter Crouch came back to haunt his former
teammates with a well taken header to chalk out Luis Suarez's sublime opener.
Had Jonathan Walters managed to convert Dean Whitehead's through ball shortly before the interval then the game could have panned out somewhat differently, however the travelling army of 6,000 supporters will still leave Merseyside with their heads held high after an impressive showing from their heroes.
Tony Pulis made four changes to the side which was beaten at Chelsea in the last Premier League outing with Thomas Sorensen preferred to Asmir Begovic, while Glenn Whelan, Matthew Etherington and Crouch all returned after being rested at Stamford Bridge.
City chose to defend in front of the Kop in the first half and immediately found themselves under pressure as Liverpool were awarded a free kick wide on the left.
Steven Gerrard delivered the ball to the edge of the six yard box where Maxi Rodriguez met it with a glancing header, but his contact was such that it flew high and wide of the target.
There was then a delay in the action as Etherington received treatment for a heavy knock which resulted in Martin Kelly being shown a yellow card, but while the free kick was wasted by Whelan, City's winger eventually hobbled back into the action.
The Potters carved out their first clear-cut opening in the twelfth minute when Ryan Shotton, having opted not to send in a long throw-in, was presented with the opportunity to deliver a cross to the far post on the overlap after being released by Andy Wilkinson.
England international Crouch had peeled off his marker and rose to meet with his head, but failed to trouble Pepe Reina when finding Walters might have been a better option.
Wilkinson was then required to make a crucial intervention at the other end when Maxi tried his luck from long range after Suarez had dropped into a deep position before laying off a pass to the winger as he cut inside from the left hand side.
Up until the midway point in the half, City had looked quite comfortable in repelling any threat, but then one moment of magic changed all that.
Predictably, it was Suarez who produced it as he dropped into a deep position to collect a pass and then burst onto a return pass from Maxi before curling an exquisite 20-yard drive past Sorensen's despairing dive to his left.
But the goal spurred on the Potters and they were back on level terms four minutes later when Crouch scored against his former club.
City forced three successive corners, the first of which saw Whelan try to beat Reina at his near post with a low shot only for it to be cleared.
And then from the third of those corners from the right, Crouch rose to power home a close range header from Etherington's cross, but there were protests from Reina that he was blocked off by Shotton which led to him being booked.
The Potters then had a glorious opportunity to go in front when Whitehead advanced forward and threaded a perfect pass into the path of Walters who was through on goal, but saw his shot flash past Reina's near post much to his frustration.
As the half moved into the closing stages, City's 6,000 fans broke into chants of 'Fabrice Muamba' but they had an anxious moment when Liverpool were awarded a free kick right on the edge of their box for a Shawcross foul on Suarez.
City's captain had good reason to question the decision by Kevin Friend, but he and his team-mates were relieved to see Gerrard fire his effort well over the bar after Suarez had slipped a short pass to the England midfielder.
Liverpool immediately caused the Potters concern after the restart and not surprisingly Suarez and Gerrard were the instigators of the chance.
It was Suarez who was the provider once again with a pass which picked out the England star bursting forward and he unleashed a low shot from just outside the box which Sorensen gathered quite comfortably low to his left.
There was then a big let off for the Potters when Liverpool were awarded a free kick for a foul by Wilkinson on Maxi on the left, and when Suarez flicked on Downing's cross, two players were inches from getting a touch at the far post.
Liverpool's second goal eventually arrived in the 57th minute when City were caught in possession and the home side made them pay.
Downing cut inside from the right and laid the ball off to Gerrard who unintentionally teed it up for the England winger to skip past one challenge and fire his left foot shot past a helpless Sorensen from just inside the box.
Pulis responded by making a swift change as former Liverpool man Pennant was brought on as a straight replacement for Shotton.
Sorensen was forced to make two crucial saves to keep the deficit at one goal, having little trouble with Kuyt's shot directed straight at him but then he had to dive low to his left to ensure a Suarez shot from long range didn't creep in.
City's final throw of the dice saw Jerome and Delap both introduced in quick succession at the expense of Etherington and Whitehead.
Though the Potters had plenty of possession and strung the passes together on occasions, it was Liverpool who carried the greater attacking threat as the game moved into the closing stages and Spearing fired over from long range.
Five minutes of additional time at the end of the initial 90 gave the visitors added hope of grabbing what would have been a deserved leveller, but despite a bombardment on the Reds' penalty area the hosts stood firm and secured themselves a place in the last four of the competition for the first time in six years.