Stoke City 2-3 Saints
For Premier League clubs, progress in the cups is highly dependent on management attitudes, and Ronnie has been consistently upbeat about the Capital One affair – in will come irregular starters (currently Targett, Gardos, Wanyama and Long), but otherwise we go for the strongest line-up available. It worked very nicely in the first half against Stoke, helped along by a magnificent first goal scored by Pellè from some distance. The second, on the half hour, was more of a team affair, with good work by Tadić and Davis ending with a low cross forced home by Long, no doubt to some relief at opening his account with the club. Stoke did put the ball in the net in a half in which they were often outclassed, but Walters was offside.
Their strike shortly after the break was legitimate, though, and if Forster’s reaction after conceding to N’Zonzi’s awkwardly bobbling shot suggested he thought he could have done better, then I share his view. Saints had opportunities to seal the game anyway, but Begovic saved with his legs from Long, who should have scored, and Wanyama, who had a more difficult angle to deal with. A slip by Gardos could, and maybe should, have led to an unlikely equaliser, but Saints were comfortable until the nature of the game changed on 73 minutes. This was when Adam and Crouch were introduced, with the former promptly kicking the influential Schneiderlin up in the air to signal a more combative approach.
Adam’s delivery and Crouch’s presence inevitably made set pieces more difficult to defend, and Saints were having trouble clearing a succession of corners before a near post touch left Diouf with an easy opportunity at the far.
Then Crouch left his mark on the match: an unnecessary shove on Targett upset both referee Mason and skipper Fonte, leading to cautions for both transgressors. Then Crouch launched into an uncharacteristic lunge on Davis which may have been worthy of a red card on its own. The forward left the field after a second yellow to misguided cheers from his own supporters (well, it turned out he had just cost them the game) while the Saints contingent remembered his Portsmouth career while forgetting that we also used to claim that “he’s alright now.”
It was a key moment because Stoke couldn’t deal with the resulting free kick and Pellè punished some poor defending before joining the crowd to celebrate, and earning a caution of his own. Saints sent on Alderweireld for the disappointing Gardos, but still managed to make a meal of seeing out a generous helping of added time to progress to the next round.
LSSC Man of the Match: Graziano Pellè, for the second game running, and against the same opponents.