Stoke City’s hopes of making further progress in the FA Cup were extinguished on Sunday afternoon as they slipped to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Chelsea.
Mark Hughes’ side were undone by a delightful first half free-kick by Brazilian international Oscar which wrong footed returning goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and City ultimately failed to muster an equaliser.
The Potters, who fell at the same hurdle of the competition last season, will have left Stamford Bridge bitterly disappointed not to have really troubled their opponents in front of the live television cameras.
Mark Hughes made four changes to the side that lost to Crystal Palace last weekend in the Premier League with Wilson Palacios, Stephen Ireland and Marko Arnautovic coming in for Glenn Whelan, Charlie Adam and Oussama Assaidi whilst Begovic replaced Jack Butland in goal.
The Bosnian international was almost picking the ball out of his own net just two minutes into his return from a finger injury when Eden Hazard fed the ball into Samuel Eto’o and the Cameroon striker turned his marker from 14 yards before firing an effort narrowly wide of the far post.
Despite Chelsea’s positive start, it was the Potters who very nearly took the lead twice through former England striker Peter Crouch as he first beat David Luiz to a Jonathan Walters cross but couldn’t direct his header goalwards, before seeing his attempted turn and volley inside the area fly a few yards wide of Mark Schwarzer’s right-hand post.
The Blues were enjoying the lion’s share of possession on a chilly day in London but were finding it difficult to break down a resolute and well drilled City backline and their frustrations were evident when Frank Lampard fired a 25-yard effort well over.
It wasn’t until the 28th minute that the home side had their first shot on target but it was to have devastating consequences for the Potters.
Erik Pieters was adjudged to have felled Eto’o on the edge-of-the-area and after Oscar had used Luiz as a decoy, the Brazilian midfielder drilled into Begovic’s far post after the Stoke stopper took a late step to his left which left him with no chance.
It didn’t seem to deter City from venturing forward in the hope of finding a quick equaliser and Steven Nzonzi tested Schwarzer, before Branislav Ivanovic should have made it two for Jose Mourinho’s side but he was unable to get a head to Lampard’s deep free-kick.
In an open final five minutes to the first half it was Chelsea who looked the more likely to add to their lead as Oscar struck the post, before Lampard fired over from 20 yards when in truth he should have tested the ‘keeper.
The Blues started the second period in much the same vein as they finished the first and had a glorious chance to extend their advantage when Oscar played in Andre Schurrle who rattled the crossbar with a right foot shot from an acute angle.
Stoke responded to Chelsea’s bright start as Walters curled an effort just wide of the far post from just inside the penalty area before Arnautovic saw his 20-yard free-kick fall the wrong side of Schwarzer’s right-hand post.
It was Mourinho’s men however who always looked as though they were about to get the game’s second goal but saw a series of chances go begging as Lampard forced Begovic into a smart save from 20 yards and then Eto’o missed an open goal as he stabbed wide after a goalmouth scramble from Hazard’s ball across the six-yard line.
The home side continued to push in search of doubling their lead and almost got it with six minutes remaining when Luiz fired a 20-yard free-kick towards the top corner but saw his effort thwarted by a superb save from Begovic.
City tried to fashion a leveller in the final few minutes but ultimately failed in their efforts and they now have to turn their attentions to picking up Premier League points for the rest of the season.