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22:05 1st December 2015

Potters Secure Semi-Final Spot

STOKE CITY are through to the Semi-Final of the Capital One Cup for the first time since famously lifting the trophy back in 1972.

Mark Hughes’ side overcame in-form Championship outfit Sheffield Wednesday by two goals to nil at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Former Barcelona forward Ibrahim Afellay got the ball running with a sublimely executed volley on the half hour mark following a superb ball into his path by substitute Joselu.

Phil Bardsley added to the tally with a thumping free-kick 15 minutes from time - leaving rookie ‘keeper Joe Wildsmith helpless as the ball flew past him and cannoned into the back of the net via the post.

Carlos Carvalhal’s side struggled to match their more illustrious opponents throughout the opening 45 minutes as the Potters dictated the tempo of the game and dominated possession.

The home side suffered an early blow however when Peter Crouch was forced to leave the field prematurely after appearing to twinge his hamstring as he chased down a sluggish back pass.

Jonathan Walters was his usual tireless self, hassling and harrying the Wednesday back four and he was hugely unfortunate not to have connected with a delightful Marko Arnautovic centre when had he done so it would have been 1-0.

Man of the match Afellay was clearly relishing his free role in the number ten role, oozing class every time he touched the ball and looking threatening with his intricacy at the same time.

It was he who produced a moment of magic to find an avenue through the visitors on the 30-minute mark when he delayed his run into the box to perfection, before volleying the ball into the bottom corner of the net from 15-yards.

One could have been two as the home side looked to turn the screw, but Marco van Ginkel, who was one of five changes to the starting eleven, saw his driven effort finger-tipped around the post.

Both managers were forced into making changes as Glen Johnson was replaced by Bardsley and Carvalhal decided to swap the more creative Lewis McGugan for defender Jack Hunt.

His positive change in tactics culminated in a more positive looking spell for his players during the initial exchanges as they won a succession of corners and caused some concern to the previously untroubled Potters rear-guard.

The closest they came to dragging themselves level was when substitute Daniel Pudil acrobatically curled a dipping effort towards goal, only for the ball to drift wide of the target with Jack Butland seemingly beaten.

That, in truth, was as good as it got for the Owls, who were fortunate not to have fallen two behind when Joselu beat the offside trap, controlled a superb ball forward and then drilled a strike towards the far corner only for the ‘keeper to save with his foot.

Afellay was equally as unlucky when he let rip a powerful strike from the rebound, but watched with frustration as midfielder Modou Sougou tracked back to deny a certain goal.

There was no such frustration in the 75th minute when referee Jon Moss correctly adjudged Glenn Loovens to have deliberately brought down the lively Arnautovic 35-yards out.

Scotland international Bardsley, whose last goal came in the same competition for Sunderland in their last four victory over Manchester United just under two years ago, let rip a thunderous effort and killed off the visitors with a second goal of the night.

Supporters, players and backroom staff will now wait anxiously for the conclusion of the last remaining Semi-Final fixture between Southampton and Liverpool on Wednesday evening to see who they will face over two-legs early in 2016.

One thing is for certain, whether it be Manchester City, Everton, the Saints or the Reds, Hughes’ side will be full of confidence of securing themselves a spot in the showpiece Final at Wembley Stadium in February.


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955