STOKE CITY saw a potential route to Wembley cut-off for the second time in five days as they were beaten by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Mark Hughes had hoped his side would mount a challenge in the Emirates FA Cup following their midweek Capital One Cup penalty shoot-out heartache at the hands of Liverpool.
But Palace dashed their hopes of an extended run in the world’s most prestigious cup competition as they secured their place in tomorrow’s fifth round draw.
A first half goal from Wilfried Zaha settled the all Premier League contest on a cold afternoon in south London.
Zaha provided the game’s decisive moment in the 18th minute as he capitalised on ponderous defending by the Potters to keep alive his side’s hopes of cup glory.
Following the Potters’ 120-minute run-out at Liverpool City, boss Hughes made eight changes to his starting line-up with just Erik Pieters, Philipp Wollscheid and Bojan retaining their places.
Palace, however, started brightly and wasted a golden opportunity to strike an early blow when Zaha for some reason elected to volley a cross from the left instead of using his head and thereby gave Wollscheid the opportunity to clear.
City’s first attack of note saw Xherdan Shaqiri fire in a teasing cross from the right but Joselu was slow to react and Palace were able to scramble it clear for a throw.
Stephen Ireland failed to capitalise on a half chance when he dragged a shot from the edge of the area wide of the target after a short corner had only been partially cleared.
Palace’s supporters had reason to celebrate when Zaha gave them the lead. It was too easy for the livewire winger as he wriggled past two defenders before cheekily firing through Jakob Haugaard’s legs.
Joe Ledley went close to doubling Palace’s advantage just two minutes later as he got on the end of Jason Puncheon’s ball in from the left but, much to the relief of the Potters, he failed to get his close range effort on target.
City squandered a great chance to level when Joselu blazed a shot over the bar and into the Holmesdale Road Stand after Marc Wilson’s header from a Shaqiri corner had only been partially cleared.
Wilson was arguably fortunate to escape with just a yellow card – with the home side’s fans baying for a harsher penalty - after bringing down Fraizer Campbell as he raced away down the left.
And City’s problems looked like getting worse when a weak backpass by Wollscheid put Haugaard in trouble under pressure from Puncheon but the Dane spared his blushes by clearing downfield.
Shaqiri provided City’s best moment of the first half - and almost an equaliser – as he just failed to find the top left-hand corner of Wayne Hennessey’s net after twisting and turning his way into the Palace area.
Joel Ward went close to making it 2-0 in the early stages of the second half. His long range effort had Haugaard scrambling across his goal but it flashed just inches wide of the target.
Haugaard, making his second start for the Potters, showed why the Club moved for him last summer as he made an outstanding save to tip a first time shot from Campbell over the bar.
His opposite number Hennessey was called into action soon afterwards, blocking a Peter Odemwingie shot with his legs and City looked for a way back into the contest.
Shaqiri should have levelled matters just after the hour mark. The mercurial Swiss international slipped the attentions of Damien Delaney with a neat turn in the area but with just Hennessey to beat, albeit from a difficult angle, he failed to find the target.
City improved as the second half wore on, albeit without really testing Hennessey, but Campbell wasted an opportunity to settle the home supporters’ nerves as he sliced his shot from an unmarked position after a swift counter-attack.
Palace had loud appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg with Scott Dann claiming he had been pushed as he tried to get on the end of a Zaha cross from the right.
And they wasted a gilt-edged chance to kill off the game with just three minutes remaining. Zaha’s cross from the left found Marouane Chamakh unmarked at the far post but the substitute was clearly caught in two minds and elected to try and find a teammate instead of having a go himself.
As the clock ticked down Phil Bardsley tested Hennessey with a long-range free-kick, while Joselu volleyed wide from 15 yards out as City’s cup hopes ended for another season.