Muscular Stoke give Brighton a bruising
Stoke City 3 Brighton & Hove Albion 0: Potters' set-play prowess prevails as League One leaders left to lick wounds
Sunday 20 February 2011
A near full-strength Stoke side breezed past the League One leaders Brighton as if they were taking a stroll along the seafront at Hove. Three goals in the space of 29 minutes during a one-sided first half sealed the Premier League club's place in the quarter-finals for the second year running.
The strains of "Sussex By the Sea" died in the throats of 3,000 Brighton supporters, giving way to a triumphalist "Delilah" from the other three sides of the ground, as Stoke's set-piece prowess produced goals for John Carew and Ryan Shawcross. In between came another, superbly worked effort from Jon Walters.
As a clash of footballing philosophies – Stoke's muscular, direct approach against Brighton's ground-level passing game – it was a non-event because power so swiftly overwhelmed poise. "Fingers crossed we get a home draw," said the Stoke manager Tony Pulis, and indeed, even the top clubs will not relish a last-eight date in the Potteries.
"The players' attitude was fantastic," added Pulis. "The one disappointment was that it was only 3-0 at half-time – Walters could have had a hat-trick. We gave Brighton the respect they deserved with the team we put out. They have been smashing in their division. You can take your foot off the pedal so easily, but it wasn't until the last 10 minutes that they got around our box."
His Brighton counterpart, Gus Poyet, offered a candid assessment, admitting: "They're stronger than us, they're bigger and they're technicallybetter. They're also the best at set-plays." Poyet had seen a £9m goalkeeper, Sunderland's Craig Gordon, struggle in the air against Stoke a fortnight earlier, which perhaps made him err on the side of generosity when asked whether his own last line, Peter Brezovan, could have done better. "For sure," he replied, "but I invite you all to get the gloves, go out there and go for crosses [against Stoke]!"
Many better sides than Brighton have been undone by a torpedo throw-in from Rory Delap – Arsenal, for example, have repeatedly conceded goals from that source on their visits to the Potteries – but having the 6ft 6in Brezovan must have given Poyet's team hope that they might fare better. The Slovak, alas, got both his positioning and his punch horribly wrong in the 14th minute, allowing Carew an embarrassingly simple opener from a back-header.
Stoke's second was also a header, but came from open play and followed a fine move. The right-back Marc Wilson is still unbeaten after 12 FA Cup appearances, having sat out Portsmouth's defeat in last season's final because of injury. After supplying Jermaine Pennant, Wilson overlapped to take the return. From his cross, Walters stole in front of Gordon Greer to execute a deft glancing header and Brezovan could only wave at the ball as it flew in.
Greer soon cleared off the line from a chipped shot by Walters after a less than convincing clearance by Brezovan, but another set-piece delivery from the right shortly before half-time left Brighton with an insurmountable task. The marking was non-existent as Pennant's corner kick was first headed on by Walters and then in by Shawcross near the far post.
Brighton continued to pass the ball neatly but there was a lightweight look about them compared with Stoke. Thomas Sorensen was a virtual spectator in the home goal and may even have felt a pang of disappointment on the hour when Howard Webb correctly refused Elliott Bennett's appeal for a penalty after he fell under Robert Huth's challenge.
Sorensen's first save worth the name did not come until 12 minutes from time when the substitute Fran Sandaza's angled shot came out off his legs. When the Brighton contingent cheekily crooned, "What's it like to see a pass?", the locals' riposte of,"It's just like watching West Brom", said it all. Stoke have lost only once in 26 meetings against the other Albion, who are also purists, and who are, coincidentally, the next visitors to Britannia Stadium.
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the match: Pennant
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