29/10/2014: Stoke 2-3 Saints
Saints booked a place in the League Cup quarter finals with an exciting 3-2 win over Stoke. The visitors were well on top in the first half, and more than worthy of their two goal cushion. Stoke battled back in the 2nd half, but the best team won in the end.
Ronald Koeman made a few alterations to his line-up, with Florin Gardos and Matt Targett coming in at the back. Victor Wanyama took up a central midfield role in place of Jack Cork. Steven Davis moved back to the right, with Shane Long tucked in behind Graziano Pelle. It was Pelle who sparked the game into life on 6 minutes with a scorching goal. The Italian picked up Targett's low pass about 30 yards from goal, before curling into the corner of the net.
Saints were very much in charge during the first half. Goal scoring opportunities were limited during the first 30 minutes, with much of the play being contested in the middle of the park. The visitors invariably looked sharper on the ball and more intense without it. Saints started to quicken the pace and were soon rewarded with a second goal. Dusan Tadic and Davis worked well down the right, before the ball was cut back to Long, who completed a simple low finish from just outside the six yard box.
At the other end Stoke's Jon Walters had a goal rightly disallowed. Pelle took the ball down brilliantly before shooting well over, as Saints went into the break with a seemingly comfortable lead.
Saints started the 2nd half in a similar vein, with some crisp passing in the final third, but it was Stoke who scored first. The Potters caught their opponents out with a quickly taken free-kick. Steven N'Zonzi had space to drive forward before shooting low into the corner of the net from distance.
Saints had a couple of very good chances to restore their two goal advantage, with Asmir Begovic saving brilliantly from Long and Wanyama. Stoke started to see a lot more of the ball during the last 20 minutes. The home side imposed themselves on the game a bit more, with a number of nasty tackles flying in. The pressure eventually told, with Stoke equalising on 82. Charlie Adam's corner was flicked on to the back post, with Mame Biram Diouf nodding down into the back of the net.
Extra time seemed inevitable until substitute Peter Crouch got himself sent off for a vicious tackle on Davis, his second booking in as many minutes. Wanayama got a touch on the resulting free-kick, before the ball bounced around in the box. Pelle was alert and fired into the roof of the net for 3-2. Stoke threw everything forward - including Begovic - during the six minutes of stoppage time, but couldn't find an equaliser.
Another fantastic, if slightly nervy night for Saints fans. Once again, some of the football played by Koeman's men was superb. Saints showed a lot more urgency than Stoke during the first half, and are clearly very motivated by the prospect of going all the way in this competition. Saints have faced three very tricky tests so far and come through them. With Sheffield United up next for a place in the semis, it's hard to shake that feeling that this could be our year.
Forster: 6. Should have probably done better for the first Stoke goal. Made one notable save, but otherwise didn't have too much to do
Clyne: 7. Offered a decent attacking outlet
Fonte: 6. Bailed Gardos out once in the second half, and generally steady throughout
Gardos: 6. Not as assured as he was in the previous round at Arsenal. Didn't look completely at ease with Stoke's physicality, but generally used the ball fairly well
Targett: 6. Caught out of position slightly a couple of times, but did make some important interceptions and tackles
Schneiderlin: 7. Tailed off slightly in the second half, but pretty strong in the first. Good awareness and some strong challenges
Wanyama: 7. Occasionally a bit wasteful on the ball, but broke forward to good effect
Davis: 7. Used the ball intelligently and quickly
Tadic: 7. Saints' most exciting player yet again. Some superb skill and link-up play. Only criticism you could possibly deliver is that some of his set pieces weren't up to scratch.
Long: 7. Tired a bit at the end, but got his goal and combined well with Pelle and the rest
Pelle: 8. Two brilliant goals and an all-round top display
Cork: Sent on in stoppage time to see the game out
Alderweireld: Barely involved in the few minutes he was on the pitch
Stoke - N'Zonzi (49) Diouf (82)
Saints - Pelle (6, 88) Long (30)
Attendance: 16,340 (2,193 Saints fans)
Referee: Lee Mason
Stoke: Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Cameron (Adam 73), N'Zonzi, Walters, Bojan (Crouch 73), Arnautovic, Diouf
Subs not used: Sorensen, Muniesa, Sidwell, Ireland, Assaidi
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Gardos (Alderweireld 90), Targett, Schneiderlin, Wanyama, S Davis (Cork), Long, Tadic, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Betrand, Yoshida, Reed, Mayuka