Graziano Pelle took Southampton into the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup with his second goal of this fourth-round tie last night, snatching victory after Stoke had mounted a determined comeback that was only two minutes from taking the tie into extra time.
Ronald Koeman’s in-form team had cruised to a two-goal half-time lead but were pegged back heroically by the home side, for whom Steven Nzonzi and Mame Diouf looked to have done enough to earn themselves an extra half-hour to find a winner, with the momentum of the match having swung heavily in their favour.
But excitement turned to deflation for the Potteries crowd when substitute Peter Crouch was sent off for his second booking in the space of 74 seconds and then, from the resulting free-kick, a mistake by defender Erik Pieters allowed the Italian Pelle to snatch the decisive goal, his ninth of the season, and continue an impressive sequence of results under Koeman.
With its open corners and unforgiving hillside location, the Britannia Stadium seldom feels warm and there was a distinct chill of encroaching autumn about the place last night, although it took Southampton very little time to warm to their task.
The Saints’ most recent appearance in the last eight of the League Cup was a decade ago and there was clearly an appetite to put that right, as might be expected of a side with eight wins from their previous nine matches and enjoying the giddy experience of being second to only Chelsea in the Premier League.
Sadio Mané, whose goal was the difference between these sides in the Premier League at St Mary’s last Saturday, was missing with an ankle injury, but Koeman made only four changes and included his leading scorer Pelle, who struck after only six minutes.
The former Feyenoord striker’s confidence is bubbling, as could be witnessed as he collected a pass from left-back Matt Targett, a 19-year-old playing in only his second match, checked inside and, with Marc Wilson standing off him, curled a lovely shot from 25 yards that was too much for Asmir Begovic and clipped the right-hand post before nestling in the net.
Bojan Krkic, the Spanish playmaker who has yet to establish himself in Stoke’s side, even one built to manager Mark Hughes’ more refined tastes, was encouragingly busy and Stoke used their wide men frequently. But their crosses were not good enough to create real chances and in the first half-hour there was no real test for Fraser Forster. Moreover, Southampton only emphasised the frustration of the home crowd by doubling their lead.
It was another well-crafted goal, characteristic of a team as stylishly effective under Koeman as they had been for Mauricio Pochettino. Steve Davis, after some nice interplay and a superb reverse pass from Dusan Tadic, got in behind the Stoke back four and his cutback found Shane Long in space to sweep home his first Southampton goal from eight yards.
Stoke looked short of self-belief and ideas and might have quickly conceded a third. Pelle, wrong-footing Wilson with a confident flick, created a chance for himself but sent his shot over the bar.
Jonathan Walters ranted at the linesman for a late flag after finding the net from a clearly offside position and when half-time arrived the Stoke players were arguing among themselves as some in the crowd booed.
Yet things were looking brighter for them within four minutes of the restart as Nzonzi’s first goal of the season gave them a foothold in the tie. It was a poor goal from where Koeman was looking, the rangy Stoke midfielder allowed to stride forward unchallenged before beating Forster from outside the box with a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Stoke now pushed for another, quickly, but Bojan’s finish was poor after Walters had worked hard to create an opening. As the game became stretched, Southampton looked dangerous on the counter-attack and it took two good saves from Begovic, defying Long and then Victor Wanyama, to keep the deficit at a single goal.
Bojan did not improve his chances of pinning down a regular spot when he wasted two opportunities in close proximity as the match entered its final phase, prompting Hughes to replace him with Crouch, sending on Charlie Adam too in place of Geoff Cameron with 15 minutes left to try to force extra time, or better.
Stoke soon had the Southampton goal under siege and the momentum built brought them an equaliser with eight minutes left of the 90. Phil Bardsley and Crouch both had efforts blocked for corners before the visitors’ resolve cracked. Adam delivered a corner from the left – Stoke’s fifth in the space of 90 seconds – Bardsley flicked on at the near post and Diouf arrived at the far post to nod the ball over the line.
Yet as the home crowd anticipated extra time with their side in control, Crouch brought down Davis and, having been cautioned barely a minute earlier for a foul on Targett, was shown the red card.
Davis took the free-kick from the left, Pieters stumbled as he attempted to clear and Pelle pounced to propel Southampton into the quarter-finals.Reuse content