Resilient defending meant few clear-cut chances for the visitors...
It’s a dangerous game to sit on a one-goal advantage but Stoke City’s defensive organisation kept Fulham at bay with relative ease in their third round encounter, before Kenwyne Jones sealed the tie with just over ten minutes left.
The visitors were restricted to half chances and speculative efforts and the way the hosts have turned the Britannia Stadium into a fortress since their introduction to the Premier League has gone a long way in influencing their domestic position.
As for a cup run, Stoke would fancy their chances if they continue to get home draws. Teams will not look at an away encounter with Stoke favourably, and Pulis’s men could be the dark horses of the competition.
Evidently from the sides both managers fielded, League Cup success is still coveted by Premier League teams. Pulis and Mark Hughes selected an eleven that indicated they are taking this competition seriously.
The early tempo matched the selection policy and Stoke flew out of the traps with Tuncay Sanli seeing an early effort whistle narrowly over the crossbar.
The first half was littered with niggling fouls which threatened to halt an engaging affair. The lack of clear chances was down to the efforts of both sets of defenders. Brede Hangeland appeared to get the better of Kenwyne Jones in the early stages, and Stoke’s club-record transfer was unusually subdued.
But the hosts took the lead through a typical set-piece which has been a successful cornerstone of Stoke’s survival in the Premier League. Matthew Etherington swung the ball in from a corner and Danny Higginbotham rose above everyone to head past Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham responded accordingly, and with the attacking influence of Zoltan Gera, the visitors created a few chances wihich tested Stoke’s number-two goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Hughes’s side have started brightly in the Premier League, but the creativity from Clint Dempsey and the sharp movement from Moussa Dembele appeared to be lacking, and the visitors were unable to create any clear opening in the opening half.
Stoke looked content to sit on their lead until the interval and the Britannia Stadium rear guard made every effort to stifle any Fulham attack.
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Dempsey spurned one of the best chances of the second half as his effort from 12 yards was comfortably saved by Begovic, the American should have done better and the absence of Bobby Zamora was evidently missed by Hughes’s men.
Stoke seemed happy to defend their single goal advantage after the break and allow Fulham to attack. The visitors duly obliged as Salcido got forward again and saw his shot screw wide of the left post.
The hosts defending restricted the majority of Fulham’s chances to long-range efforts, and Gera went close on 74 minutes with a shot that went just wide of the right post.
But the tie was settled against the run of play 12 minutes before the full-time whistle. Jones, who had a quiet evening, latched onto a conventional Rory Delap long throw, and the striker headed in from close range.