Stoke City reached the League Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1972, as goals from Ibrahim Afellay and Phil Bardsley clinched a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Dutchman Afellay opened his account for the Premier League club, volleying home substitute Joselu’s cross to break the deadlock after 30 minutes.
Bardsley’s effort in the second half was no less impressive, as the full-back – sent on at half-time to replace Glen Johnson – scored from a free-kick. His effort, deflected in off the left post after 75 minutes, knocked the stuffing out of Wednesday.
The omens are good for Stoke – the previous time they reached the last four they went on to lift the trophy, defeating Chelsea by a 2-1 scoreline 43 years ago.
They have already knocked their 1972 final opponents out of this year’s competition and, having avoided becoming Sheffield Wednesday’s third top-flight scalp, are now just 180 minutes away from a trip to Wembley.
The visitors had already beaten Newcastle United and Arsenal this season, yet they rarely threatened to cause another cup upset at the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke struggled themselves in attack up until Afellay produced a moment of real quality to put them in front on the half-hour mark.
Already without Mame Biram Diouf after his wife went into labour prior to the game, manager Mark Hughes was forced into an early change up front when Peter Crouch picked up an injury.
The striker’s first start since September 22 lasted all of 11 minutes, as he overstretched attempting to make a challenge and hurt his hamstring.
Joselu was sent on in Crouch’s place, and it was the Spaniard’s looping cross from tight to the touchline that led to the home side taking the lead.
Afellay kept his eye on the ball as it dipped towards him at the far post, watching it all the way onto his left foot. Making clean contact, he struck his effort back across teenage goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith and into the bottom right corner.
Sheffield Wednesday’s only chance of note in the first 45 minutes fell to on-loan forward Gary Hooper, but he failed to make any real contact with his volley when Kieran Lee’s cross from the right picked him out in space.
Wildsmith kept the Championship club in the contest by denying Joselu with his legs on the hour, but that was a rare effort at either end.
Substitute Daniel Pudil saw an ambitious shot back over his shoulder dip just over the top, but that was as close as Carlos Carvalhal’s injury-hit side came to getting back on level terms.
The game was put beyond them when Bardsley made it 2-0, the ball being touched into his path before he rifled a low shot in off the woodwork.
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