Bolton Wanderers 0-5 Stoke City: Scintillating Stoke blitz Bolton
Rampant Stoke booked their FA Cup final debut and a meeting with Manchester City on May 14 after demolishing sorry Bolton in the biggest semi-final annihilation in 72 years.
Matthew Etherington, Robert Huth and Kenwyne Jones shredded the hapless Trotters with a three-goal blitz inside the opening half hour, with former Bolton player Jon Walters adding two more in the second half to match Wolves' five-goal hammering of Grimsby in 1939. It means no poignant final for Bolton in the year Nat Lofthouse passed away but that, after three previous last-four failures, the Potteries outfit will finally get to experience the world's oldest cup competition and, win or lose, will be playing in the Europa League next year providing City claim a Champions League berth.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis hopes the manner of the triumph will silence the critics who insist his side are one-dimensional and reliant on physicality. "We have been criticised and pulled down and I am not sure whether this victory will stop it," said Pulis. "When we lost our first game at the start of the season, one bookmaker paid out on us to get relegated. There is always the stigma. The first year we were in the Premier League we worked very hard at being organised and methodical in what we did. We have moved on from that and will continue to get better."
There were a significant number of empty seats at the Bolton end, which was something of a disappointment considering the Trotters were trying to reach their first final in over half a century. Maybe those missing few thousands had a premonition about what was to unfold. Maybe Bolton's players had got stuck in the M1 carnage and this was a group of imposters, so unlike the team that has represented their club all season. Either way, by the final whistle there were many, many more. What made matters even worse was the fact major question marks could be raised over Bolton's involvement in all three Stoke goals that effectively wrapped up victory with an hour still to play. Owen Coyle will have nightmares about the manner his side conceded possession close to their own penalty area for the first. Instead of simply booting the ball downfield, as surely their opponents would have done in a similar situation, they tried to pass their way out of danger. It just made matters worse. Etherington seized on a loose ball, spotted an opportunity and whistled a shot into the bottom corner.
Jussi Jaaskelainen must have experienced an awful sense of deja-vu six minutes later when he was plunging towards the same side of his goal with equally little chance of preventing the net behind him bulging. This time Gary Cahill was at fault as the England international managed to get only a half-hearted header to Andy Wilkinson's high ball. Robert Huth has scored a number of goals for Stoke. None could have been sweeter than the first-time half-volley that left Jaaskelainen completely helpless once more. Coyle sensed the bewilderment amongst his players but was powerless to help. And when Martin Petrov lost possession to Jermain Pennant deep inside the Stoke half, the Bolton boss could only watch in complete disbelief as the former Liverpool man streaked forward 70 yards without a tackle being made on him before he slipped a pass through to Jones. The bulky marksman, a club record 8million signing by Pulis last summer, steadied himself before burying his shot past Jaaskelainen. Stoke's supporters were delirious. For those present old enough to remember the last two of those three semi-final failures, in 1970 and 1971 - the other was in 1899 - the feeling of satisfaction was great indeed. Jones denied Etherington the opportunity to lash home a fourth and Jaaskelainen stopped a goalbound Jon Walters effort.
Coyle made a couple of changes at the break, with Petrov one of the men replaced, and shoved Johan Elmander into a more attacking role after being bypassed totally in midfield. The move was akin to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic as Stoke just resumed their attacking offensive. Jones spurned a couple of opportunities as Bolton laboured, then he, along with Jon Walters and Ryan Shawcross managed to pass up a chance when it seemed easier to score. Any fear Stoke had lost their nerve was quickly dispelled as Walters rammed home from 25 yards. And when the man who battled his way back through the lower leagues after being dumped by Bolton in 2004 drilled the fifth past Jaaskelainen nine minutes from time, it merely completed Stoke's perfect day.
Coyle apologised to the Bolton fans. "It was a below-par performance, but Stoke were terrific and scored some outstanding goals," he said. "We were the architects of our own downfall. When you go 1-0 down you still have to believe in yourself and trust yourself, but I thought there were too many of my players that didn't give a performance to match their quality and their ability and that is the galling thing."
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Knight, Cahill, Robinson, Elmander, Muamba (Moreno 73), Lee, Petrov (Mark Davies 46), Klasnic (Taylor 46), Kevin Davies. Subs Not Used: Bogdan, Cohen, Alonso, Wheater.
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson, Pennant (Whitehead 78), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Pugh 87), Walters, Jones (Fuller 84). Subs Not Used: Nash, Diao, Carew, Faye.