STOKE CITY’S Capital One Cup dream is over for at least another year after reigning Premier League champions Manchester United recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Superbly taken second half strikes from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra sent the Red Devils through to the Semi-Final of the competition, where they will join Sunderland, Manchester City and West Ham United.
The Potters huffed and puffed in a bid to upset David Moyes’ side, but you could sense that it just wasn’t going to be the hosts day when the impressive Walters volleyed wide of goal from 6-yards after being presented with a glorious opportunity of levelling matters.
The Republic of Ireland ace went equally as close with a thumping effort from 25-yards that dipped just over, but in truth United were worthy of victory, and deservedly secured their place in the last four thanks to both Young and Evra, who dispatched confidently during the second period.
The match will probably remain more memorable to Stoke supporters for the scenes during the opening 45 minutes – which culminated in referee Mark Clattenburg taking the players off the field due to the severe rainfall.
Prior to the match Mark Hughes made four changes to his starting line-up as he plotted the downfall of his former employers, with Thomas Sorensen, Erik Pieters, Wilson Palacios and Walters all retuning to the team.
The Red Devils were strong themselves, but still opted to go without a number of the big guns – with most notably Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and the injured Robin Van Persie and Nemanja Vidic all absent.
The treacherous weather conditions ensured a nervy start to the game for both sides, more so the hosts however, who were kicking straight into the wind.
United were struggling to acclimatise to the surroundings themselves as they struggled to string any number of passes together.
That said, it was David Moyes’ side who had the first sniff at goal as a misplaced pass from Palacios was thread forward to Danny Welbeck, who in turn teed up Young but he fired inches wide of Sorensen’s left hand post.
At the other end the best passage of play during the early proceedings culminated in Geoff Cameron thumping an effort over the bar, after the American played a clever one-two with Walters.
As the half progressed the weather gradually got worse, so much so that with almost 30 minutes on the clock referee Mark Clattenburg ordered the players off the pitch for a temporary suspension of play.
The news appeared to have been well received by the United stars and staff, but the home side, particularly Walters and Sorensen, weren’t quite so keen to depart.
Eventually, through health and safety concerns, the players were all ushered back into the changing rooms for exactly nine minutes 47 seconds, as the rain, and then hail made it impossible for play to continue.
The home supporters appeared to be enjoying it though, with chants of ‘we’ll play in the rain’ echoing around the stadium – with some even revealing their bare chests despite the conditions.
Play resumed with the visitors returning to the pitch to take their corner, but Stoke’s backline stood firm and cleared the impending danger.
Undoubtedly, the halt in play affected both sets of players, with very little else worth noting occurring during the final 15 minutes of the half – with the exception of a deep Cameron cross that just managed to evade Walters and Stephen Ireland.
Moyes was first to make a change to his side in a bit to freshen up his attack with Javier Hernandez, the match-winner against the Potters earlier in the season, replacing the ineffective Brazilian international Anderson.
A dagger in the hart of Stoke was delivered midway through the second period when Young thumped home a ferocious effort to fire the visitors in front, just as the home side had been looking to break the deadlock themselves towards the Boothen End.
Hughes thrust on Marko Arnautovic in a bid to revive his side’s hopes of progression, and he delivered an inch perfect delivery to Walters just minutes after his arrival, but sadly the forward was unable to make the required contact, when any touch would certainly have resulted in a goal.
Moments later the desperate Walters went just as close with an audacious half-volley from outside the box, that took a deflection off Phil Jones and dropped inches over David De Gea’s crossbar.
Glenn Whelan then hammered an effort well over from range, before the match was sealed through Evra, who displayed the composure of a proven striker, in cutting inside and curling a superb effort into the far corner of the net from 15-yards.
The goal came as a double blow to the hosts, who had seconds earlier lost the services of skipper Ryan Shawcross, who looked to have suffered a groin strain.
There was a late chance for the visitors to add to their tally as Young fired another effort towards goal, but Sorensen was able to claim the ball safely, despite being under pressure from Hernandez inside the 6-yard box.