Stoke City must win in the Mestalla after finally losing their unbeaten record at the Britannia Stadium in Europe last night. Their home had so far been resistant to foreign forces, but last night Valencia brought too much quality and too much nous, winning 1-0 thanks to Mehmet Topal's perfect strike.
It was a goal that certainly impressed the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis. "We had some good opportunities in the first quarter of an hour and it just didn't break for us then they scored a wonder goal," he said. "It's disappointing because Rory (Delap) or (Marc) Wilson could have got out to the ball a bit quicker but it's a fantastic strike, a goal worthy of winning any game."
For Stoke to progress, they knew that they had play on their own terms. An assertive, swaggering start was needed; they had to impose their own pace on the game, they had no interest in being drawn into a passing exhibition.
But it was inevitable that Valencia would eventually settle, and they started to play their natural game. Sofiane Feghouli and Topal began to pass and move the ball with their chosen rhythm, while Jonas Oliveira, Aritz Aduriz and Pablo Piatti were all incisive threats.
Technical quality will often be decisive. This was clear when Jonas forced the first real save of the evening from the Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, flicking the ball past Ryan Shawcross with his right foot and volleying at Begovic with his left.
It was a warning and nine minutes before the break Valencia's technical superiority was rewarded. Delap, too desperate just to clear his lines, hacked the ball away. It came to Topal, 35 yards from goal, and he rifled the ball into the very top corner of the net.
Stoke continued to push, though, throughout the second half. Matthew Etherington grew in influence, and Stoke started to send more and more balls into the Valencia area. They made danger, and on a luckier evening one or more of their deliveries would have bounced into the net, or at least fallen to a forward.
Pulis went to his bench, bringing on Ryan Shotton and Cameron Jerome. It nearly came off: Shotton had an effort deflected, and Vicente Guaita had to move well to keep it out. But Stoke could not equalise, leaving themselves with a daunting mission.
Man of the match Feghouli.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee P Rasmussen (Den).