A STUNNING hat-trick from Kenwyne Jones helped secure Stoke City a spot in Round 3 of the Capital One Cup on Wednesday evening as the Potters ran out comfortable 3-1 victors against League One side Walsall.
The Trinidad and Tobago ace wrecked havoc amongst the Saddlers backline, firing home a quick-fire first-half double to send the hosts into the interval with a two goal cushion, before adding a third six minutes from time after Ashley Hemmings had breathed life back into the visitors on the hour mark.
Prior to the game Mark Hughes made no fewer than eight changes to his starting line-up from the one that recorded a 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace four days earlier.
New signing Oussama Assaidi was forced to wait for his first start having joined just 24 hours before kick-off, however Hughes did hand roles to both Brek Shea and Marc Muniesa, neither of whom had previously started for the Potters.
As expected, Asmir Begovic was rested with Thomas Sorensen deputising for the Bosnian, and he ushered a back four that featured the recalled Andy Wilkinson, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and summer acquisition Muniesa.
Charlie Adam was the sole survivor in midfield from the weekend, being joined by Wilson Palacios and Glenn Whelan in the centre, whilst Jermaine Pennant and United States international Shea occupied the two spots on the wings.
Peter Crouch wasn’t involved at all, and his omission paved the way for a first start of the season for Jones, who ultimately did his chances of featuring against West Ham on Saturday no harm whatsoever with a polished display against the League One side.
Boasting a quite impressive record of having been beaten just three times during this calendar year, Hughes’ side were under no illusions as to how difficult a proposition Walsall would prove to be at the Britannia Stadium.
Initially there were signs that the visitors were capable of mixing it with their more illustrious opponents, however a two-goal salvo from Jones midway through the first half realistically extinguished the Saddlers hopes of causing an upset.
Following a timid start in which neither side had managed to grab the game by the scruff of the net, a misplaced pass from the Walsall backline gifted Jones with the first clear sight of goal, and he made the defender pay by rifling an unstoppable effort beyond the reach of Richard O’Donnell.
One soon became two as the Trinidadian ace capitalised on some hesitant defending from Pennant’s corner, stealing a march on the Saddlers backline and smashing the free ball high into the net to ascertain his side a comfortable two-goal advantage.
At the other end, Sorensen had to be alert to block a speculative effort from front-man Craig Westcarr, whilst a couple of uncharacteristic missed place passes from Shawcross caused brief moments of panic amongst the backline.
Truth be told though, that was as serious as it got in terms of defensive worries, as the Potters continued to flex their top-flight muscle and look the more likely of the two sides to score the third goal of the evening.
It wasn’t until the opening minutes of the second period however that Stoke managed to forge a clear sight at goal, with Adam being superbly teed up 8-yards out by Shawcross, though his effort was well saved by the legs of O’Donnell.
Moments later Marc Wilson, who was thrust into action from the bench at the interval along with Liverpool loannee Assaidi, curled a 30-yard effort just over the bar following good work from Adam.
It all appeared to be plane sailing for the hosts, well it was until the hour mark before the visitors had managed to drag themselves back into the tie with a well taken strike from winger Hemmings.
The introduction of Assaidi gave Hughes’ side a different dimension with his pace and trickery causing Walsall no end of problems on the left hand side, whilst on the right Pennant impressed when in attacking positions.
To their credit Dean Smith’s side weren’t allowing Stoke to have it all their own way as they pressed forward at every available opportunity as they through everything at the hosts in search of a second half leveller.
In the end though Jones ended their hopes of a famous comeback with a well taken third after being freed through on goal by Pennant, sandwiching two other strikes, one from Wilkinson and one from Shawcross – both of which were ruled out for offside.