STOKE CITY’s Under-18s progressed through to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup after cruising to a 4-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at the American Express Stadium.
Two strikes in each half, including a stunning lob from Kris Scott, meant for a memorable night for the Potters as they grabbed their most convincing win of the season on the biggest stage.
Jack Nardiello (2) and James Alabi fired the other goals on a dominant night, with the team able to look forward to a potential cup run if similar form is replicated.
Sam Coulson returned to central defence for the Potters after a lengthy injury lay-off, while Alabi himself returned to the side after a prolific spell with the Under-21s.
A keen crowd turned out on a bitter night at one of the Football League’s newest grounds, with even a sprinkling of Potters supporters seen amongst the gathering in the main stand.
After a tentative start from both sides, City forced Brighton’s ‘keeper Luke Colquhoun into his first stop on 12 minutes – Eddy Lecygne’s corner to the back-post was met by the flying Alabi, and his powerful header was equalled by the stopper.
One minute later, however, Stoke took the lead in excellent fashion – Alabi found Nardiello in the box, and his lofted shot was too good for Colquhoun, stunning the home side and firing the Potters into an early lead.
Nardiello then had another effort blocked seconds later as Stoke looked on the ascendancy, and Brighton were reduced to the audacity of trying to lob Dale Eve from 35 yards through Ben Gray, with the shot comfortably clearing the crossbar.
Elliot Levy looked threatening down the right for the Seagulls, and after beating Joel Taylor comfortably, his near-post shot was well dealt with by City’s goalkeeper.
Striker George Cousins nearly pounced a moment later when the ball was bobbled in the six-yard box, but he proceeded to foul Eve as he tried to turn the ball home and the chance disappeared.
On 30 minutes, Levy made light work of the Potters defending once more and they will have been relieved to see his shot race across the goal and wide of the left hand post.
Four minutes later though, Nardiello doubled his and the team’s tally, and by doing so put the Potters’ in a commanding position midway through the first period.
The forward pounced on a rebound and his strike was too hot to handle for Colquhoun, with the ball trickling into the corner, much to the delight of his teammates.
Credit had to go to City’s youngsters as Brighton struggled to get into their rhythm and were getting increasingly frustrated, with Levy the only player to have any sort of impact on City’s resilient back-line.
The hosts changed things at half-time by introducing Robin Deen for Cousins, and they tested Eve’s handling early on when Robert Hunt drove a fine effort from 30 yards.
After a poor clearance by Kris Scott on 53 minutes, the Seagulls had further taste for the long-range effort, this time through Cameron Wiltshire – thankfully for Eve, it whistled just over the bar.
Up the other end, Nardiello spurned a great chance for his hat-trick after Alabi had wrestled possession and provided a cross from the right, with the striker blazing over with the goal at his mercy.
Those two combined for City’s third on 55 minutes – Nardiello’s chipped ball played into the hands of the pacey Alabi, and the striker shrugged off the home defender before slipping his shot under Colquhoun.
Three minutes later, things got even better for City when Scott got their fourth in spectacular fashion, with the attacking midfielder spotting Colquhoun off his line and guiding a superb effort into the top corner.
Brighton were stunned and only regained momentum when substitute Deen forced a smart stop from Eve, but Stoke nearly got a fifth as Alabi raced up the other end, only to be denied by Colquhoun’s legs.
With twenty minutes to go, Brighton needed a miracle and nearly started the long road back to recovery but Gray’s drive flashed across goal with the aid of a deflection.
Stoke maintained control of the game, however, and even though Brighton had the better of the closing stages, their dominant lead was never in danger of being eroded.
Eve; Cook, Coulson (Sanders 73), Hulme, Taylor; Lecygne (Makrillos 81), Monlouis; Richards, Scott, Nardiello (Ricketts-Hopkinson 86); Alabi.
Brighton & Hove Albion:
Colquhoun; Barry, Rea, Lall, Hunt; Levy (Davis 76), Wiltshire, Peake (Benham 67), Harris, Gray; Cousins (Deen 45).