Pulis' set-piece game pays off again for Stoke

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Stoke City 1
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The Independent Online

Late drama, in the form of a goal by Stoke's Robert Huth and a fluffed penalty for Wolves by Nenad Milijas, helped the Potteries club put their near neighbours out of the FA Cup for the first time in seven attempts spread over three centuries yesterday.

Huth, having capped an imperious display by heading Stoke in front from Matthew Etherington's free-kick with nine minutes remaining, then combined with the same player to send Milijas tumbling in the last seconds of normal time. The Serbia midfielder's spot-kick had neither the power nor the placement to beat Thomas Sorensen, who plunged left to parry the ball, securing a fifth-round home tie against League One leaders Brighton and ensuring Wolves can concentrate on avoiding relegation.

Sorensen lost his place in the Premier League side to Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in October, but was keen to impress at Molineux in the hope of keeping his place in the Denmark line-up for England's visit to Copenhagen next month. Shrewdly, he ignored the advice of colleague Jon Walters, who, according to manager Tony Pulis, was "screaming for him to dive the other way".

"Thomas has been brilliant. Begovic has been absolutely outstanding but we're hoping to sit down and agree a deal with Thomas," said Pulis, who is also weighing up offers for Ricardo Fuller from Sunderland, and for Tuncay Sanli, from the German club VfL Wolfsburg.

Meanwhile, Mick McCarthy has completed what he insisted would be his final business during the transfer window, taking midfidelder Jamie O'Hara on loan from Tottenham for the rest of the season. "I want him to run fast, score goals and keep us up," the Wolves manager said.

His players singularly failed to produce those attributes on this occasion. Supporters must hope they were conserving their energies for the Premier League trip to Bolton on Wednesday in a fixture schedule poorly timed from the point of view of the FA Cup's faded lustre. Stoke, who go to Liverpool on the same night, were not conspicuously better, though they at least had the mitigation of being obviously weakened by injuries and suspension.

"It was a difficult game," Pulis said. "There were two honest teams but there wasn't a lot of quality." McCarthy felt the wasted penalty was "indicative" of Wolves' performance in that it was a "missed opportunity". He added: "We gave away a needless free-kick [for George Elokobi's foul on Walters] and got punished by Stoke, who do set-pieces better than anyone."

Fewer than 12,000 spectators, a quarter of them from Stoke, were scattered around the ground, an abysmal attendance considering barely 30 miles separate the two clubs. Once, before Edward Heath began tinkering with county names and the Football Association started messing with their blue-riband competition, this would have been a Staffordshire derby and a full house. Pulis, a self-styled "traditionalist" bemoaned the way the way the fourth round was pressed up against two league matches. McCarthy said: "There's a lot of skint people around at the moment. Nobody's got any money and it makes it difficult with so many games coming up."

The stay-aways were vindicated by an encounter in which defences dominated. Steven Fletcher headed against Sorensen's left-hand post in the 36th minute and the Dane saved well from Sam Vokes in the closing minutes. It said much for the standard of entertainment, though, that an assistant referee's offside flag provoked the loudest song of the day, a topical chorus of "Bring the woman back".

A muddy, churned pitch was about the only similarity with FA Cup ties of the 1970s. That, of course, is scant impediment to Stoke, who are so effective in the air, as Huth's fifth goal of the season demonstrated.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Zubar, Stearman, Berra, Elokobi; Jarvis, Henry, Milijas, Hunt (Edwards, 14); Fletcher (Ebanks-Blake, 75), Ward (Vokes, 84). Substitutes not used Hennessey (gk), Edwards, Craddock, Ebanks-Blake, D Jones, Vokes, Mouyokolo. Booked Zubar.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Wilson, 66), Faye, Huth, Pugh; Walters, Delap, Diao (Whelan, h-t), Etherington; Carew, K Jones (Fuller, 69).

Substitutes not used Nash (gk), Collins, Pennant, Tuncay.

Booked Diao, Walters.

Man of the match Huth.

Referee M Jones (Cheshire).

Attendance 11,967.

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