Thursday 8 December 2016

Walters' stunner sees Stoke through as Doncaster fluff chances late on

Doncaster 1-2 Stoke City

Richard Gibson

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Stoke City's Jonathan Walters celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Stoke City's Jonathan Walters celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Doncaster Rovers' Nathan Tyson (left) celebrates with Cedric Evina after scoring Doncaster's equaliser. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Smoke from a flare moves across the pitch. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

In the end it was the quality of the finishing that dictated Stoke progressing beyond this round for the seventh year in a row without the need for a replay. While that of Mark Hughes' team bore the hallmarks of international class, the late chances fluffed by Doncaster would have made an FA Cup bloopers' tape.

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Republic of Ireland striker Jonathan Walters thrashed in what turned out to be a stunning winner as Stoke put the midweek disappointment of conceding a deficit to Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final behind them.

Without their twinkle-toed trio of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, the honours fell to the Republic of Ireland international and Peter Crouch to navigate the way to victory at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Having fielded the same XI in the four previous matches since Christmas, including the single-goal loss to Liverpool, Hughes made nine changes. For continuity's sake, he retained Ryan Shawcross and Philipp Wollscheid. They were both kept under the cosh as Doncaster made a mockery of the 45 places separating the teams at kick-off.

It would have been far from an injustice had either Nathan Tyson or Andy Butler converted chances from inside the six-yard box after the clock struck 90 minutes. But, having hauled themselves back to cancel out Crouch's opener on the quarter-hour, neither could keep the ball down under pressure.

"It was a proper cup tie and I don't think many people left before the end. It went to the wire and we had two great chances at the end," said Darren Ferguson, Hughes' former Manchester United team-mate.

In contrast to Hughes' sweeping changes, the single alteration Ferguson made was enforced after their captain, James Coppinger, turned his ankle in training. The other 10 from the 3-0 win at Southend last week were retained.

Doncaster's equaliser, after Crouch crowned only his fourth start of a frustrating season with a deft finish to Joselu's centre, had the Yorkshire club's 13, 299 crowd dreaming of another Ferguson cup tale. Defender Luke McCullough burst half the length of the field before squaring and although Stoke's debutant goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard parried his initial effort, Nathan Tyson was quickest to the rebound.

At that point, it appeared to be turning into an uncomfortable afternoon for Hughes, who scored in the 1990 Cup final to provide Ferguson's famous father with his first English trophy. Ten minutes after the restart, Conor Grant zipped a drive through a crowded penalty area and narrowly wide and Craig Alcock went down under a challenge from Mame Biram Diouf, only for referee Keith Stroud to wave away home penalty appeals.

Doncaster sensed blood, only to be bloodied by Stoke's spectacular counter-punch. A matter of seconds after Crouch got in an almighty tangle to poke over an unguarded net, after Mame Biram Diouf's header was pushed out by Thorsten Stuckmann, Walters saved his blushes by unleashing his 30-yard howitzer.

"It was a good cup tie, they played well and caused us problems. It's taken two good quality goals to take the tie away from them," said Hughes.

"We rode our luck with a few chances Doncaster had and on another day they could have fallen more kindly for them and might still have been in the hat."

Even then, Andy Williams, the much-travelled lower-league striker, hit the crossbar with the deftest of headers before the two fluffed efforts in injury time saw Stoke into round four.

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