It is difficult to underestimate the importance of a home draw in the FA Cup. Particular when it pits us against the away form of Stoke, which is in stark contrast to their impressive home record. That clear advantage has now been ceded. Advantage Stoke. Does this place any extra emphasis now on Tuesday evening?
Having established an early 1-0 lead (with the aid of some comedic defending), we held the dominance in terms of play and possession (with Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Bridge enjoying success out wide) but, in a familiar refrain of frustrations earlier in the season, disappointingly could not close out the game and paid the price for it.
No matter what the circumstances of the game, a 1-0 lead is a dangerous one to try and protect, particularly with the attacking threat that Stoke have. With the disruption that injuries had on Stoke, a two goal lead at half-time you feel would have been enough to send us through.
We should learn to not be surprised by either the team selection or formation that Roberto Mancini deploys, and there were a number of changes to the line-up again. In came Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Petrov and Lescott. Out went the injured Kompany and Vieira, cup-tied Johnson, and Carlos Tevez - back in Argentina and presumably also unavailable for Tuesday evening.
That said, the loss of Tevez apart, we didn't look a weaker side on paper. The prospects looked good, twin threats on the wings and Stephen Ireland slotting into a midfield where he should have plenty of licence to create and get forward. After all, that's what he has been wanting isn't it?
It didn't quite work out that way though. For all of the goalscoring threat that Carlos Tevez has brought of late, his running, energy and work rate really sets the tempo. Desite the added attacking threat brought into the side, without his presence, Adebayor as a long front man didn't quite work. With the way Stoke set up at the back, a more fluid, attacking threat with plenty of movement may have garnered better results. In that respect, Roque Santa Cruz may well be drafted into the starting line-up with a return to a 4-4-2 on Tuesday following his introduction as a substitute.
Yes there was plenty of possession, plenty of territorial advantage, but we never quite carved chances out. Even the goal was largely handed to us. It is easy to forget that Mancini is barely a dozen games into his tenure, but it is apparant at times that the side (often changed before and during games) still doesn't appear entirely comfortable with their roles and how they are to function as a side.
A difficult run of games just got that bit harder with a second trip to the Britannia Stadium sandwiched between some very important games in the league. For us to make the top four this season, it is imperative that our away form needs to be improved.
That also applies to the FA Cup now as well.