JONATHAN WALTERS’ double and a late Peter Crouch header secured the Potters a comfortable passage through to the 3rd Round of this season’s Capital One Cup against Portsmouth on Wednesday evening.
Mark Hughes’ side were full value for their victory against their lower-league counterparts, with Walters netting either side of the interval from close range, before Crouch helped himself to a goal against his former side from 8-yards in the final minute.
The match will probably be best remembered for the introduction of Academy starlet Oliver Shenton, who made his first-team debut at the tender age of 16 – and in the process became the Club’s youngest debutant since Peter Bullock in April 1959.
The inclusion of the midfielder was the major surprise in the pre-match team news as boss Mark Hughes made wholesale changes to the side that recorded a 1-1 draw against Hull City on Sunday afternoon.
Victor Moses was handed his debut for the Club after completing a season-long loan move from Chelsea earlier in the month, whilst there were also spots in the eleven for the likes of Jack Butland, Geoff Cameron and Peter Crouch.
England international ‘keeper Butland came into the side at the expense of Asmir Begovic, and ushered a back four that comprised of Andy Wilkinson, skipper Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Spanish starlet Marc Muniesa.
United States star Cameron was handed a role in central midfield alongside Charlie Adam, who made an impact from the bench at Hull City last time out.
Peter Odemwingie made his second start four days, and lined up as part of an attacking trio that also included Walters and Nigerian compatriot Moses, with Crouch chosen to spearhead the side up front.
Moses wasted absolutely no time in endearing himself into the hearts of the City supporters with his blistering pace and trickery on the ball causing Pompey no end of problems during the initial exchanges.
In fact, it was the 24-year old who very nearly teed up Crouch with a superb run down the left after six minutes, only for a superb last ditch challenge from defender Johnny Ertl to block the attempted ball across the 6-yard box.
There was no such luck for the visitors’ on the quarter hour mark however as Walters grabbed his first goal of the evening in smart style, after nipping between the last defender and the impressive ‘keeper Paul Jones, to prod home from 6-yards.
One could have been two soon after when Moses went agonisingly close to rounding off a sublime run through the middle of the pitch with a thumping effort that flew inches wide of the post.
Clearly struggling to contain their higher league opponents, Portsmouth mustered together their first sight at goal midway through the half but Butland was able to easily gather Ryan Taylor’s audacious effort from 30-yards.
Moses, cutting an imposing figure in the attacking third, again went close to opening his account for the Club from an acute angle – forcing Jones into a superb save down to his left, before Crouch’s effort on the rebound was saved just as impressively.
Former Portsmouth forward Crouch fizzed an effort inches over the bar in acrobatic style after 30 minutes, before Jones, who was enjoying arguably the best performance of his career, finger-tipped Adam’s fizzing effort over the bar.
At the other end the largely untroubled Butland had to be alert to parry Jed Wallace’s stinging strike away from goal, just moments after Cameron had to be withdrawn through injury. Summer acquisition Steve Sidwell came on as his replacement.
For as long as the two sides remained separated by a single goal, there was always that hope amongst the visiting supporters that their players could drag themselves back into the contest, although sadly for them they were extinguished minutes after the break when Walters notched his second of the campaign.
The impressive Moses was the architect, leaving his marker for dead down the left flank and delivering an inch-perfect ball across the 6-yard box, gifting the former Ipswich Town ace one of the easiest goals he is likely to score.
The 30-year old was very nearly presented with a landmark third five minutes later when Wilkinson picked him out with a stunning cross-field ball, but not for the first time in the game, Jones came to his side’s rescue with another good save.
Crouch went close on two further occasions as he and his teammates looked to finish off the previously unbeaten Blues, but his first effort drifted wide of goal whilst his second effort was comfortably held by the Pompey stopper.
Hughes introduced Marko Arnautovic from the bench on the 60 minute mark – replacing debutant Moses, who had previously featured in just 13 minutes of action for parent club Chelsea throughout pre-season.
Jones pulled off two more impressive saves later in the evening – firstly denying Crouch and then Adam, both of whom thought they had added to the two goals netted by Walters earlier in the encounter.
The introduction of 16-year old Shenton 12 minutes from time undoubtedly brought with it the loudest cheer of the evening.
The talented youngster certainly didn’t look out of place on the field, firing an effort at goal with just his third touch, before displaying great composure on the ball as he formed part of a three-man midfield alongside experienced professionals Adam and Sidwell.
Arnautovic very nearly bagged a third in the 83rd minute with a rasping effort that brought the best out of Jones, who got down quickly to his left to palm the Austrian’s strike around the post.
With time just about up, there was one final hoorah for the home supporters inside the stadium, who were brought to their feet by Crouch, after he rose highest and guided Walters’ centre beyond the reach of the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net.