I imagined that the game would see Stoke come out quickly with us looking to soak up the pressure before stretching the game late to take victory. If anything it was the other way round yet we ultimately paid the price for not capitalising on our early showing.
Much like the first tie, we started quickly. The returning Bellamy adding pace up front and Adebayor looking sharp gave us a focal point in attack and we played a controlled game, passing the ball well with a far quicker tempo than imagined. Stoke rarely troubled us, with the inclusions of Richards and Onouha in defence and Kompany pushed into midfield thwarting the home side who didn't appear to carry the threat seen in previous games.
In a tight game such as this though, chances invariably would be few and far between. And like in the first tie where the game would have been different had we added to our early lead, if we had converted our early dominance the game tonight could well have been different. The rustiness of Craig Bellamy costing us in that regard when he was released one on one by Adebayor but allowed Thomas Sorensen to make the save.
The second half though so us lose our early control. Stoke grew in confidence and began to control both possession and territory and Gareth Barry (who was having an excellent game) missed a good opportunity took the lead which set in motion a hectic five minute spell where Craig Bellamy brought us back on level terms. However, a flailing arm from Adebayor on Ryan Shawcross reduced us to ten men. The decision was an easy one to make, and was a mistake by Adebayor yet players too often escape caution when they are guilty of holding and pulling players back.
Perhaps we were never quite in the game after that. Stoke had chances to win it in the ninety minutes, but stepped up the pressure in extra-time and once they went ahead from a Delap 'special' - ironically Shay Given coming for, and missing the long throw after being criticised for staying on his line - the game was all but gone. A solid defensive performance undone by lapses in concentration. Tuncay increased the lead soon after and whilst we had plenty of spirit, it was a forlorn hope and a recovery always unlikely. Another dream of a Wembley visit extinguished.
With Cup hopes gone, the race for the fourth spot is ever more intensified. Looking through the fixtures, we undoubtedly have the toughest run in of the sides involved. What it does mean though is it is very much in our hands given we have to play the sides around us.
Saturday of course is Chelsea away. Not traditionally a happy hunting ground for us and given the current mood, to come away with a point would be more than hoped for.