Sunday 4 December 2016

Stoke's fierce power play leaves Brighton battered and bruised

STOKE CITY 3 BRIGHTON 0

Tim Rich at the Britannia Stadium

Published 20/02/2011 | 05:00

This was not romantic; humiliations never are and by half-time, with their side three down, the thoughts of the thousands who had made the journey from Sussex began to turn to the M6.

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The loudspeakers had boomed out lines about the magic of the FA Cup but there was never much likelihood of its stardust being sprinkled in the grey confines of the Britannia. Stoke are a ruthlessly committed Premier League side that reached the quarter-finals last year and might do rather better this season, given a favourable draw.

Brighton last tasted an FA Cup quarter-final in their Goldstone Ground days and in the more genteel surrounds of the Withdean Stadium, Gus Poyet has taken them to the top of League One with a brand of pretty, passing football.

However, facing a team as physical as Stoke, it was like trying to fend off an assailant with a ballet shoe. They were out of the tie by the interval and the remains of an FA Cup run that has encompassed seven games, was spent mounting an exercise in damage limitation.

Stoke's second goal, the one that effectively killed this contest, was, however, beautifully constructed, with Jermaine Pennant and Marc Wilson overlapping delivered a cross that Jonathan Walters headed through Peter Brezovan's gloves.

The last time Poyet had been to Stoke was three years ago as Juande Ramos's assistant for what turned out to be the Spaniard's last game as Tottenham manager. He said he had seen Heurelho Gomes in tears in the away dressing-room and Brezovan was another 'keeper upset by the experience.

"Peter knew he had to do better than anyone because you get kicked, punched and elbowed here," said Poyet. "I would invite anyone to try to be a goalkeeper against Stoke. His strength is coming for crosses but that is at the level he plays."

Brezovan floundered when attempting to meet Delap's first long throw and the second produced the opening goal as it touched John Carew's head and looped into the net.

Had the Brighton captain, Gordon Greer, not cleared off the line, they would have been three down moments after Walters had put them two up. But the goals were coming and two minutes before half-time Pennant's corner was nodded on by Walters for Ryan Shawcross to head home.

When a marriage proposal was relayed during the interval, it was the only touch of romance about the contest.

Brighton may have held their own in the second half but Poyet thought an upset was unlikely the moment he glanced down the team sheet and saw Tony Pulis had selected a virtually full-strength side.

"I knew what was coming," Poyet said. "I thought we would be able to cope with the throws and the corners but then reality hit us. They were bigger, stronger and better than us."

The only question at half-time was whether Brighton would be humiliated and the answer was no, although they had been humbled enough before the interval.

Late on they launched a few token attempts at Thomas Sorensen's goal and Brezovan made a two-handed save from Ricardo Fuller but, to quote Pulis's opening words as he marched into the press room, we could all go home, there were no shocks to see.

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