STOKE CITY suffered Valentine’s Day heartache at Ewood Park as they crashed out of the FA Cup following a 4-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
The Potters had taken an early lead through Peter Crouch in the fifth round tie but a Geoff Cameron sending off and subsequent Josh King hat-trick as well as a Rudy Gestede penalty condemned Mark Hughes’ side to a heavy loss.
The defeat means the Potters missed out on reaching the quarter finals of the prestigious competition for the first time since 2012 and are left to play for league points for the rest of the season.
Hughes had made a single change to the side which lost to Premier League champions Manchester City last time out with Jack Butland replacing Asmir Begovic, but it was Rovers who were quickest of the blocks, most notably forward King who was denied a clear run and sight of goal early on when the assistant referee flagged the Norwegian international offside.
City did however slowly grow into the contest and took the lead with their first real opportunity following Mame Diouf’s determined work to win his side a corner in front of the home support.
Victor Moses’ delivery from the right fell to Crouch who pounced 12 yards from goal to ram home the loose ball off the underside of the crossbar for his ninth goal in nine games against the Lancashire outfit.
The goal sparked a flurry of chances for the Potters and Diouf collected a knock down from Crouch moments later and after taking a touch on the edge-of-the-area, the Senegalese striker forced Simon Eastwood into a smart save on his goalline.
Marko Arnautovic had an even better opportunity in the 17th minute when Diouf fed the attacker on the right but once in sight of the goal he fired his effort into the side netting.
The pendulum swung back in the favour of the home team before the midway point however and Gary Bowyer’s team should have really pulled themselves level in the 20th minute when a cross into the area was only half cleared to King who blazed over with Butland rushing off his line to thwart the forward.
The visitors’ attacking talent remained a threat though and after Moses fired a rasping drive from just inside the area which was pushed into the danger zone by Eastwood, the ball fell to Diouf who drilled over on the penalty spot when he should have found the back of the net.
Bowyer’s team were constantly looking to play the ball in behind the City defence and after forcing Muniesa to head the ball away for a corner they duly levelled the scores.
Substitute Craig Conway delivered his set piece to the edge of the box where Shane Duffy headed the ball towards goal allowing King to glance in from close range.
Rovers should have taken the lead minutes later but Gestede scuffed his effort wide with only Butland to beat following a cross from King, but it wasn’t long after before the hosts did go ahead in the sixth minute of eight additional minutes.
The ball was lofted into the City penalty area and after Geoff Cameron tangled with King in a clear goalscoring opportunity, the American international was shown the red card and Gestede coolly dispatched the resulting spot kick.
Hughes brought off Arnautovic for Andy Wilkinson at the break but it was to get even worse for Potters six minutes into the second period when King broke the offside trap to race clear and put the ball through Butland’s legs to give the home side a two goal advantage.
It was made a three goal lead just five minutes later as Gestede flicked the ball over the top of the Potters backline once again to allow King to score a carbon copy of his early strike and grab his hat-trick.
City struggled to find any momentum following the fourth Rovers strike and in truth the home side could have added to their goal tally, however Jack Butland managed to effectively deal with efforts from Tom Carney and a far post header by Gestede.
The Potters did have justified claims for a penalty late on when Duffy seemed to handle the ball inside the area, before confusion between the referee and fourth official in the closing stages saw Glenn Whelan sent off for a second yellow only for Anthony Taylor to reverse the decision after realising the midfielder had in fact not been cautioned earlier in the game.