JONATHAN WALTERS bounced back with two extra-time goals at the right end to book Stoke City a fourth round meeting with Manchester City in the fourth round of the FA Cup . . . as they overcame Championship high-flyers Crystal Palace at the Britannia Stadium.
The Republic of Ireland international, who scored two unfortunate own goals in the weekend defeat to Chelsea, emerged as the hero by producing the decisive strikes which secured a 4-1 victory over a Palace side that had equalised late on to take the replay to extra-time.
City had gone in front when Kenwyne Jones headed home his fourth goal in five home matches, but the Eagles hit back when referee Anthony Taylor awarded them their second penalty of the evening from which Glenn Murray drew his side level in the 86th minute.
Thomas Sorensen was sent the wrong way on that occasion, but had earlier dived low to his left to keep out a spot kick from Jermaine Easter in the first half.
A close-fought replay swung decisively in the Potters’ favour in extra-time as Walters swooped to head home his first from a Matthew Etherington cross.
With City catching Palace on the break a number of times in the second period of extra-time, Walters strode forward to calmly slot home his second of the night before Cameron Jerome popped up with the fourth goal after latching onto a Jones pass.
The Potters will now face Manchester City in eleven days time at the Britannia Stadium in what will be a re-run of the FA Cup Final at Wembley two years ago.
After a fairly subdued start in the bitterly cold conditions, things warmed up with a break from Walters which opened the way for Cameron on the overlap.
The American international picked out Whitehead with his low cross to the edge of the box where Whitehead resisted the temptation to shoot himself, laying it off instead for Etherington to his left who struck his left foot drive firmly but saw it deflected wide.
That was a rare moment, however, when either side threatened to break the deadlock as Palace had little difficulty in resisting anything else City could muster.
It took until the fifteenth minute for the Potters to carve out another opening as Huth’s speculative ball forward picked out Walters and his neat lay-off found Whitehead whose first-time shot from the edge of the box took a deflection and flew over the bar.
Etherington produced a couple of penetrating bursts down the left, but on both occasions the final ball into the box didn’t not cause the Palace defence any alarm.
The first real threat from Palace was predictably fashioned by Zaha’s burst down the left and his low cross forced Shawcross to react smartly with a clearance.
That was a warning sign for City, although Zaha, having caught Wilkinson in possession, was booked for what the referee deemed to be a dive by the striker.
However, in Palace’s next break, Zaha went down in the box again under a challenge from Huth and referee Taylor had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The Potters needed Sorensen to maintain his excellent record of saving penalties and he duly obliged by diving low to his left to keep out Easter’s spot kick.
City showed plenty of endeavour in their attempt to make the most of that let-off, but Palace were more than equal to any threat before the break.
It was perhaps some relief in the circumstances that Holloway made a change at half-time which saw Bolassie introduced in place of the impressive Zaha.
Whitehead, who was now operating as an emergency left back following the withdrawal of the injured Wilkinson, produced the first moment of encouragement for City after the break as he curled a shot towards the far corner which Price saved diving to his left.
The lack of clearcut opportunities, however, led to Pulis making his second change of the night as Jerome was introduced in place of Kightly.
That was followed shortly afterwards by the arrival of Jones as a replacement for Crouch as City’s manager played all his cards in search of a breakthrough.
The double change had the desired effect as the Potters exerted more pressure on the Palace defence and finally broke down their resistance.
Jerome, having exchanged passes with Walters in a raid down the right, cut inside onto his left foot and lifted his shot high over the bar.
His strike partner Jones was then denied by the woodwork as a shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off a defender and hit the base of the post.
But there was no escape for Palace in the 68th minute as Etherington lifted an inviting cross to the far post where Jones rose to meet it with a firm header, but it only crept in after slipping through the hands of the Palace ‘keeper.
City’s lead would have been short-lived but for the brilliance of Sorensen again when Easter found himself in on goal with only the ‘keeper to beat from a tight angle, but the big Dane was off his line smartly to smother the shot.
The replay could then have been put beyond Palace’s reach when they were caught out on the counter attack as Jerome slipped a pass into the path of Etherington, but his low shot was smothered by Price diving to his left.
With the clock ticking down to the end of 90 minutes, City found themselves under an increasing amount of pressure from a Palace side who had been buoyed by the arrival of their leading scorer Murray as the final throw of the dice.
When the Potters failed to deal decisively with a move through the middle, Williams burst into the box and went down under a challenge from Shawcross as he tried to make up for the shortage opf cover on the right hand side.
Referee Taylor once again pointed to the spot in awarding Palace their second penalty of the evening, but this time there was no reprieve as Murray stepped forward to calmly send Sorensen the wrong way with his spot kick.
Despite the fact that there was four minutes of injury-time added on, City’s best endeavour in those closing stages couldn’t produce a winner.
But they didn’t have long to wait to regain the lead when the replay went in to extra-time and it was a sweet moment for Walters.
After scoring two own in the defeat at home to Chelsea on Saturday, he was on target at the right end four minutes after the restart.
Etherington was the creator of the goal by delivering an excellent cross to the far post where Walters stooped to head home from close range and the way he celebrated that moment showed his enormous sense of relief.
The Potters were then only inches away from gaining a two-goal cushion as Etherington swung a corner in from the right and Shawcross got in front of his marker to meet it with a firm header that was just the wrong side of the upright.
But the third goal arrived four minutes into the second period of extra time when City caught the Eagles on the break as Jones slipped a pass into Walters who acres of space in front of him and kept his nerve a fire a shot past Price.
With the game opening up and Palace clearly tiring, the Potters had other opportunities to put the replay beyond doubt, none more so than Jones who burst through to force a brave save out of Price with a close range effort.
The victory was sealed in the final minute of extra-time when Jones, having won the ball in the middle of the park, slipped an inch perfect pass into Jerome who rounded the ‘keeper before slipping the ball home from a tight angle.