Stoke Reserves 2 Cardiff 0
Cardiff City Stadium
Tuesday 18th January
We were promised team changes before last night's FA Cup replay at Cardiff but Tony Pulis maintained that it would still be a strong enough side to see off the threat from South Wales. So I have to admit that I was a tad concerned when I heard the team-sheet before kick-off as Stoke put out what was, give or take a couple of regular first-teamers, our entire reserve line-up.
As expected, Sorensen was in goal with Higginbotham (as skipper) along with Faye, Shotton and Collins in defence. Whelan, Pennant, Pugh and Diao were in the middle with Walters and Fuller in attack.
Tone left the remainder of the normal starting eleven at home and relied upon just five substitutes: Nash, Wilson, Soares, Tonge and a return for Mamady Sidibe - fresh off the physio's table.
Thankfully, Cardiff were also forced into fielding a weakened side, but did start with former Potter, Jon Parkin whilst having to do without the likes of Bothroyd and Bellamy but did have room for Chopra on the bench.
So the next hurdle to overcome was how to watch the match? Unable to make the trek to to South Wales and suffering from a lack of Welsh, I turned to a combination of S4C for vision and the blessed Nige on Radio Stoke for sound. The fact that the radio commentary was ten seconds ahead of the picture only added to what was a surreal experience where you wondered if any home fans had actually turned up and that the vocal Stokies were the only ones there. Contemplating that lack of cup atmosphere did at least made the first half go quicker. The Stoke reservists' collective lack of match fitness was all too evident as we found it difficult to push forward with any conviction. The only saving grace was that the Bluebirds were finding it worse - resulting in hardly any attempts on goal in the first 45 minutes. So the most notable event was the enforced departure through injury of Danny Higginbotham after only ten minutes - to be replaced by Michael Tonge.
Both sides seemed to find some energy for the start of the second half and it was Ryan Shotton who had a couple of good chances with Jon Walters also getting more into the action. Marc Wilson came on for a tiring Diao and Jermaine Pennant was withdrawn to be replaced by Tom Soares, who has been notable by his almost total absence from any Stoke team since being signed from Crystal Palace more than two years ago. As it was, Soares played his part well and could have had a goal except for a chance deflection by a Cardiff player.
The minutes ticked down to extra time and we were nearly undone at the death when Chopra tried to earn himself a penalty at the expense of Danny Collins but thankfully the referee, Peter Walton, was having none of that and the only surprise was that he didn't see fit to book Chopra for diving.
But with extra time now on, it only took 90 seconds for the Potters to finally clamber into the lead. Tonge's corner kick was met by Walters at the near post who headed the ball through a gaggle of Cardiff players and into the net. After that, there was no way that we were going to lose as Cardiff seemed to lose what little fight they had in them and with under ten minutes remaining Walters earned his second goal of the night with a neat shot from an almost impossible angle on the goal line.
So Tone's gamble eventually paid off - did I really doubt it would? A successful, competitive run-out for virtually all the fringe players, the first team untouched ahead of an important Premier League tie against Fulham at the weekend and we get to play Wolves at Molineux in the fourth round. A good night's work I think...