Mar 132011
 

Stoke City did it. Don’t ask me how but they managed to defeat West Ham United 2-1 and secure a place in the FA Cup semi-finals where they will meet Bolton Wanderers.

Stoke are now just one game away from an historic appearance in the FA Cup Final Despite the club’s long history, it was founded in 1863, an appearance in an FA Cup final has eluded them. The nearest they came was in the early 1970s when in successive seasons they met Arsenal at the semi-final stage of the competition and lost on both occasions following a replay.

I well remember the agony of those encounters and for that reason have little time for Arsenal. I was so pleased when Barcelona dumped them out of the Champions League and even more delighted when Manchester United knocked them out of the FA Cup yesterday.

As for today’s game, it was a close run thing and the last 10 minutes were tense as Stoke reverted to their characteristic sitting back when in the lead thus allowing West Ham to launch attack after attack. But Stoke’s defence held firm.

In fact, you could say the entire victory was down to the defence. Stoke’s attacking players have lost the plot when it comes to scoring goals. Even Matthew Etherington managed to miss a penalty. Both of Stoke’s goals came from set pieces, it’s the only way they know how to find the back of the net.

German central defender Robert Huth, one of manager Tony Pulis’s better signings, converted a long throw from Rory Delap to give Stoke the lead. That was cancelled out by a goal from West Ham’s Frederic Piquionne who blatantly handled the ball before chipping a shot over the advancing Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

It took a thundering free kick from full back Danny Higginbotham, driven at pace about six inches above the ground and through the defensive wall, to ensure that Stoke reached the FA Cup semi-final stage for the the first time in 39 years.

In an all-round battling performance by Stoke, the only disappointment was the woeful and inept performance of record signing Kenwynne Jones, perhaps one of Pulis’s worst ever signings in view of the amount of money spent — £8 million.

Sunderland were laughing all the way to the bank on that deal. I doubt Stoke could get £80,000 for Jones if they wanted to sell him. His first touch is woeful, he lacks power in the air, is too easily knocked off the ball and seems to be on a different wavelength to the rest of his team mates.

The only time Jones should be allowed on the pitch of the Britannia Stadium is when the grass needs cutting. On second thoughts, I doubt he has the application and concentration to perform that task.

I hope Jones proves me wrong in the semi-final but I have a feeling it will take hypnosis to turn him into a footballer of merit.

Personal problems — a messy divorce — have been cited as the reasons for Jones’s drop in form, just one goal in his last 16 outings. If that is the case, why is manager Pulis picking him week in, week out?

Still, today is not a time to dwell on the shortcomings of Jones, Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis. The team won and stand poised to make history for the club.

Wembley here we come!

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