Stoke struggle for cup win
Just over eight thousand fans watched the Potters struggle to overcome League 1 opponents, Millwall in a dour FA Cup third round match. The final scoreline threatens to deceive as most fans had resigned themselves to travelling to the New Den by the time the first goal was scored. But an own goal on 82 minutes and a Ricardo Fuller clincher 5 minutes later allowed Stoke to cruise to the fourth round draw.
With new signing, Liam Lawrence unavailable due to illness, John Eustace recorded his first start in a Stoke shirt for two years and former Lion, Peter Sweeney replaced the departed Lee Hendrie. Vincent Pericard replaced Ricardo Fuller, who was rested on the bench.
But this tale of missed opportunities, as Stoke failed to make the best of the chances that came along, together with a constant stop/start game with several injuries made for a very uninspiring tussle for fans.
The first half was totally forgettable but the Potters did have chances. On 35 minutes, several players refused to seize the initiative and just shoot, passing it around the Millwall box like a game of Musical Chairs. When the music stopped, it was Eustace's weak shot that was easily saved by the Lion's keeper. Danny Higginbotham or Clint Hill should also have buried an easy cross from a free kick, but with both going up together the ball ended up on the top netting. Millwall's only real chance came early in the half as an opportunist, dipping shot from 25 yards saw Steve Simonsen scurrying back to his line to just tip the ball over the bar to save a certain goal.
Tony Pulis stirred the pot at half time, replacing Salif Diao with Fuller and putting Pericard out on the right wing in an attempt to get behind the Millwall defence. This change of tactics should have given Stoke their first goal within a minute of the restart. Mamady Sidibe's first shot was blocked by the keeper and the rebound was smashed wide of a gaping goal.
Fuller threatened and Stoke harried the Millwall defence, but in vain and it looked like it was going to be one of those nights. Pulis shuffled the pack again and brought on Adam Rooney for Sweeney and Dave Brammer for Eustace, now effectively playing four up front. Rooney nearly had a dream start with an attacking run and whilst staying on his feet after a bad tackle saw his shot go just wide of the post.
The first goal came from a Brammer corner which Danny Higginbotham fired into the six yard box and with the ball looking to go just wide of the right post it was deflected into the goal by the Millwall midfielder, Marvin Elliott.
Brammer could then have made it two with a screamer from 25 yards which was tipped over by Pidgelely, but in the end it was Fuller who did so a couple of minutes later after picking up a rebound from a Millwall defender he calmly shot past the advancing keeper.
Not the Potters' finest 90 minutes, but results count - especially in the FA Cup.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Duberry, Higginbotham, Hill, Russell, Eustace (Brammer 73), Diao (Fuller 46), Sweeney (Rooney 73), Sidibe, Pericard.
Subs not used: Duggan, Wilkinson.
Millwall: Pidgeley, Ross (Bakayogo 73), Shaw, Robinson, Senda, Byfield, Ardley, Elliott, Zebroski, Williams (Fuseini 66), May (Hubertz 10).
Subs not used: Day, Phillips.