STOKE CITY set up an FA Cup last 16 encounter against Blackburn Rovers on Monday evening courtesy of a comfortable 4-1 triumph over League One promotion hopefuls Rochdale in the fourth round.
The Potters overcame their lower league opponents in relatively straightforward fashion thanks to a sublime first half volley from Bojan and well taken second half efforts from Stephen Ireland, on loan Chelsea ace Victor Moses and Jonathan Walters.
Truth be told, the narrow half-time lead the visitors possessed arguably should have been nullified with Dale frontman Matthew Done guilty of spurning two good chances when played clear through on goal.
Those missed opportunities were always likely to come back to haunt Keith Hill’s side, as was proven in quite devastating fashion during a totally one-sided second 45 minutes of action.
Firstly, substitute Ireland, who replaced the injured Bojan earlier in the evening, capped off a superb run from Moses with a clinical strike from 8-yards, before the Nigerian turned from provider to scorer with a rasping effort from a tight angle.
Rhys Bennett grabbed a late consolation for the home side 13 minutes from time after the City backline had failed to clear their lines following a deep set-piece delivery from the lively Peter Vincenti.
There was still time for further drama though as the impressive Marko Arnautovic delivered an inch-perfect ball across the 6-yard box right into the path of Walters, whose first time effort found the far corner of the net.
Following what can only be described as one of the most bizarre weekends of FA Cup football, the Potters came into the encounter in a confident, yet cautions frame of mind.
Bradford City’s disposal of Chelsea and Middlesbrough’s shock victory against Manchester City were just two of several major shocks around the country in the 48 hours proceeding Monday’s live televised clash.
The hosts, buoyed by their recent surge up the League One table, were always going to match their more illustrious opponents for sheer grit and determination but there was no doubt about the vast gulf in class in talent at each managers disposal.
The likes of Bojan, Victor Moses and Marko Arnautovic were given the nod to feature from the off as Mark Hughes, a four time winner of the competition as a player, plotted what would hopefully be a comfortable passage through to the last 16.
The expectation levels of the Stoke supporters were far greater than the hope that Rochdale’s supporters carried coming into the encounter – after all there were 38 places between the two teams.
The start Stoke made to the game was majestic, and who else was at the centre of things than the mesmeric Spaniard, Bojan, who would unfortunately depart the action shortly after with an apparent knee injury.
The former Barcelona forward had netted in four of his previous 11 outings, including the winner against Leicester nine days earlier, and he was at it again in the space of three minutes in Greater Manchester.
His eyes were only ever fixated on the ball, the goal, and absolutely nothing else when a looping clearance from a Dale defender landed on his left foot, and incredibly flew directly into the top right hand corner.
As was proven at West London two days prior, leads against lower league opponents can easily be relinquished, and had the tireless Done displayed a little more composure on each of the two occasions he was freed on goal, the evening could have panned out somewhat differently.
The pacy lone strike first raced through on goal and dragged a strike inches wide of the post, whilst 10 minutes later he managed to get in behind the Stoke backline for a second time, but wasn’t able to get the better of the recalled Jack Butland.
For all of the tenaciousness and determination being displayed by the hosts, in truth, those two earlier opportunities aside, there never really appeared to be a way through a resolute and well-structured City rear-guard.
The second 45 minutes was far more one-sided, and once Hughes’ side added to Bojan’s earlier effort, the outcome of the tie was never in danger.
Ireland, who grabbed himself two from the bench against Wrexham in round three, maintained his goalscoring form with another well taken strike from close range, before Moses hammered home a third after brilliantly manoeuvring space for himself inside the penalty area.
Bennett offered late hope to the disappointed home supporters with a close range effort that he will remember for years to come, but the final word went to Walters, who latched onto Arnautovic’s delightful ball and finished with real aplomb.
Next up, Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. The journey continues…