The words of Bolton Wanderers captain Kevin Davies say it all, his side having suffered a humiliating 5-0 hammering at Wembley yesterday, at the hands of a Stoke City team with no experience of playing in such a big occasion. It was evident from the start that Stoke had their strategy right; aggressive, competitive and not afraid to shoot from distance, before Owen Coyle’s men had a chance to settle down and get into their stride, the match was more or less over as a contest.
First the rejuvenated Matthew Etherington, a testament to Tony Pulis’ incredible man-management ability, smashed home a sweet volley from the edge of the box, before another shot from distance, this time a tamer strike by towering German defender Robert Huth, curled just too much for ‘keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. Bolton were understandably shellshocked by these two opening salvos, and quickly Wembley was turned into a Stoke City cauldron by the incredible atmosphere created by the Potters’ fans, as they turned Tom Jones’ 1968 hit ‘Delilah’ into a requiem to victory, and the soundtrack to the afternoon.
True, it could have been so different for the Trotters had the referee spotted one of the uglier elements of Stoke’s play, and what seemed like a foul on Gary Cahill committed by two separate City defenders early on. Yet this shouldn’t detract from Stoke’s application and work-rate; whereas for Bolton the final was a huge anti-climax, the Potters kept going throughout, extending their lead through yet another Bolton error. With Paul Robinson’s misdirected pass at fault for Etherington’s opener, and Cahill’s poor header having let in Huth, the Wanderers’ defender then failed to cut out a slick through ball from the superb Jermaine Pennant, who had capitalised on terrible hesitancy from the experienced Martin Petrov to rob the Bulgarian of the ball, before picking out Kenwyne Jones, who slotted coolly past Jaaskelainen.
With Bolton’s attacking play having been utterly one-dimensional and ineffective in the first period – knocking long balls up to the constantly man-marked Kevin Davies whilst failing to get at Stoke down the wings – perhaps due to the absence of the cup-tied Daniel Sturridge, the pressure was on Coyle to revitalise his flagging outfit for the second period. However, it was more of the same after the break, Ivan Klasnic and Petrov, the former anonymous and the latter ineffective and easily caught in possession, replaced by Mark Davies and Matt Taylor, in a change that did see Davies’ at least run at the Stoke backline, but to little avail.
In the end two goals from former Bolton winger Jon Walters, who just four years ago was playing for now-defunct outfit Chester City, turned the game from a convincing victory to an unquestionable thrashing. After the final whistle Coyle didn’t mince his words, admitting that his side were “very poor”, whilst Stoke boss Pulis bullishly defended his team against the ‘pure football’ argument they regularly encounter.
Despite none of City’s goals coming from set-pieces, as they often do in the Premier League, Pulis stated that he didn’t expect the performance to “change perceptions of Stoke City or pacify” those who demand slick, attacking, attractive football. Well this is what the Potters produced yesterday, setting up an intriguing Final against Manchester City on 18 May. For Bolton, the post-mortem begins, with Kevin Davies having already apologised to his fans via Twitter (pictured above) for the Trotters’ disgraceful display.