LONDON - Stoke City ended more than a century of FA Cup failure in the most emphatic way when they blasted Bolton Wanderers 5-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday to reach the final for the first time.
A dazzling display of wing play from Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant, outstanding performances in every position and tactical nous from manager Tony Pulis provided the foundation for the biggest win in an FA Cup semi-final for 72 years.
The victory sealed Stoke's place back at Wembley on May 14 when they will play Manchester City who beat Manchester United on Saturday.
Stoke ripped into Bolton with an unstoppable force and were 3-0 up after 30 minutes with goals from Etherington after 11 minutes, Robert Huth after 17 and Kenwyne Jones after 30 with Jonathan Walters adding two more in the second half.
Unusually none of their goals came from the trusted long throw-ins from Rory Delap or set-pieces, with all coming from open play.
Most of them were helped along by some woeful defending from Bolton, who were trying to reach their first Cup final for 53 years.
Much had been made before the game over the feeling that Bolton were destined to reach their first final since their greatest player Nat Lofthouse, who died aged 85 in January, scored two in a 2-0 win over Manchester United in 1958.
Instead, the legacy of the fearless centre-forward remained nothing but a distant memory as Bolton surrendered meekly and never looked like winning.
It was the biggest win in this stage of the competition since Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Grimsby Town by the same score 72 years ago.
"We worked very hard all week on nullifying what Bolton do really well," delighted Stoke manager Pulis told reporters.
"We knew that with Etherington and Pennant playing wide, and Walters dropping in, we would have lots of space to break in and it worked an absolute treat, and I am very pleased."
Bolton manager Owen Coyle, by contrast, could only apologise to his club's fans, saying his team had no one to blame but themselves for their shock defeat.
"It was a below par performance, but Stoke were terrific today and scored some outstanding goals, but we were the architects of our own downfall," he said.
"When you go 1-0 down you still have to believe in yourself and trust yourself, but I thought today 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."
Stoke's fans on the other hand, widely acknowledged as the most vociferous of any big club, exceeded their decibel levels as the drama unfolded.
Formed in 1863 and the second oldest professional club in the country, Stoke have only ever won one major trophy, the League Cup in 1972 and have competed in the FA Cup for 128 years until Sunday without reaching the final.
That was all about to change as Etherington opened the scoring with a stunning 25-metre left-foot shot that gave goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen no chance, with Huth doubling the lead six minutes later with a long-range right-foot shot.
Pennant set up Jones for the third after 30 minutes before Walters smashed in from long-range after 68 minutes. Walters then added the fifth, and his second, nine minutes from time after a deflected Jones cross.
Bolton, without ineligible striker Daniel Sturridge, seemed to have only one tactic - hoofing long balls to Kevin Davies. But the striker was well marshalled by the Stoke defence with Huth and in particular skipper Ryan Shawcross in control.
Bolton's misery was briefly alleviated by the odd foray on Thomas Sorensen's goal but after two attempts from Gary Cahill in the opening 10 minutes they did not have another worthy effort until the 71st by which time it was too late anyway.
Stoke's fans were already singing endlessly and carried on partying long after the final whistle.
They have not won the FA Cup yet but they have made it to the final, a dream many thought that on the evidence of the past they might never live to see.comments