Stoke City Vs. Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Semi-Final: Tony Pulis's Men Notch Incredible 5-0 Victory

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Stoke City Vs. Bolton Wanderers: 5-0 Full Time, Potters Notch Historic Victory

If Stoke City were going to make it through to the FA Cup Final, most people would have guessed that they defeated Bolton Wanderers on penalties, or at least on a set piece. Stoke are not necessarily the negative, ball hoofing team they were when they first joined the Premier League, but they're still a defense first side, and against an attack-oriented Bolton Wanderers side, most would have guessed that Stoke would commit the majority of their team to keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. Oh, how wrong we were.

Bolton were downright terrible on Sunday afternoon at Wembley, succumbing to am embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of a team who are a often the inspiration for jokes about negative football. The combination of Bolton's ineptness and Stoke's attacking ability were seriously out of character for both teams, and the match was the kind we'll all remember when we're old and grey. When I'm 90 years old, it's likely I'll be siting in a retirement home asking people "Do you remember that game?" The guy next to me will say "Isn't the FA Cup what the cyborgs play?" and I'll pretend I didn't hear him as I sip my apple juice.

Wingers Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant were unbelievable in this game, as were the central defenders Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross. The strikers, Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters never stopped working, while Stoke's central midfielders did just what they always do, and held their positions well. Everything went exactly according to plan for Tony Pulis, and after a magnificent five goal performance, his team are through to the final.

A team whose leading scorer is a central defender scored five goals to get into a cup final. Seriously.

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Stoke City Vs. Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Semi-Final: 3-0 Halftime. No, Really.

Yeah, that score is a real thing. At halftime of the FA Cup Semi-Final between Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers, Tony Pulis's men lead by an incredible three goals to none. They scored all three of their goals in the first 30 minutes, and there seems to be no way back for Bolton. Both of the first two goals were completely preventable, and came as a result of their own errors.

The first goal came from Matthew Etherington, who scored on a fantastic long-range effort in the 11th minute. Paul Robinson made an inexcusable poor pass deep in his own end, completely missing Johan Elmander, and Etherington capitalized with an unstoppable shot.

The second goal, like the first, was a great strike that could have been prevented. In the 17th minute, following a set piece, Bolton failed to clear their lines as they sent aimless headers out of the box with no one to get onto them. Eventually, one fell to defender Robert Huth, who smoked a volley past Jussi Jaaskelainen, who got a hand to it and probably could have done better.

Goal No. 3 also came off of a giveaway, but at least this one was in the attacking half for Bolton. After picking up the ball in his own half, Jermaine Pennant took off on a great run down the right hand side before playing a through ball to Kenwyne Jones, who finished calmly past Jaaskelainen.

Simply put, it was a dominant half for Stoke. Bolton looked completely lost, and the score absolutely explains the play on the pitch. Bolton were extremely poor, and they deserve to be losing by multiple goals.

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Stoke City Vs. Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Semi-Final: Lineups

Apparently, Owen Coyle no longer believes in central midfielders. Based on the way they've played throughout the season, everyone's best guess is that his team will line up in a 4-4-2, but he's selected three true forwards and two true wingers. Okay, so it's not that weird, he did it last week, but it's an interesting response to Stuart Holden's absence. Johan Elmander has played on the right for Bolton plenty of times this year, but based on this selection, he's probably an attacking midfielder at the tip of a diamond.

Stoke? Well, they're Stoke.

Stoke City lineup (4-4-2): Sorenson; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Etherington; Walters, Jones

Bolton Wanderers lineup (4-4-2 diamond): Jaaskelainen; Robinson, Knight, Cahill, Steinsson; Muamba; Lee, Petrov; Elmander; Davies, Klasnic

Against most teams, you would say that Bolton are asking to get dominated in midfield with this setup, but fortunately they're playing Stoke, and one of their central midfielders only plays to take throw-ins.

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Preview: Stoke City Vs. Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Semi-Final

While Manchesters United and City battled it out to reach the FA Cup final, many were treating it like the end event itself. City certainly were, celebrating on the pitch after earning a Yaya-Toure-powered 1-0 win over their hated rivals as the red half of Manchester trudged off in disbelief. However, Roberto Mancini's side haven't won the trophy just yet, and now Stoke City and Bolton wanderers are doing battle for the right to take them on in May. Which team will get through? Well, that's a tricky question.

Under Tony Pullis, Stoke seemed to be remaking themselves into a more stylish team with players like Eidur Gudjohnsson and Tuncay joining the fold only for a major clearout in January returning the Potters to their hit-it-long-and-fight-like-devils roots. Nobody epitomises the side better than long throw specialist Rory Delap, who is something approaching useless in the midfield* but an absolute terror when he has the ball in his hands anywhere inside the opponent's final third.

Delap has just sign a new contract extension that will keep him at Stoke until 2013, which rather sums up the whole club. They have excellent pacy player who can take advantage of slip-ups down the right, tall forward who'll bully defences in the air, and a back line more than happy to lay in crunching tackles left and right to keep their opponents at bay. Stoke are, well, Stokey, and they do it better than almost anybody else.

Bolton, on the other hand, are very much remade under the tutelage of Owen Coyle, who's turned them from an Allardycian horror show into something approximating a pass-and-move side. Sometimes they're not particularly good at that, but it's the thought that counts and the Trotters are certainly good enough at what they do to compete for European slots with the current side. Between Johan Elmander, Kevin Davies, and Chelsea loanee Daniel Sturridge, they've been scoring goals for fun lately, and are currently in 8th place in the Premier League.

Bolton cannot reasonably harbour expectations of qualifying for Europe through their league position - only 5th and above will be good enough this season - but with Manchester City expected to at least qualify for the Europa League via a top-five finish the losing FA Cup finalists (should they indeed lose to City) will also receive a Europa League berth. For Stoke, that would be a luxury, but for Bolton it would represent a very real step forward for the club's ambitions.That said, both teams would love to add the FA Cup to their collections, and each has a decent chance of lifting the trophy against Manchester City should they manage to make it through tomorrow's match.

On paper, Bolton are the better side, but Stoke haven't been lately and they have a few key advantages - namely the fact that one of their best players isn't cup tied. Don't be shocked to see them pushing each other very very close during Sunday's FA Cup semi-final clash.

*Ok, that's an exaggeration. He's just not particularly good.

Injuries and Suspensions

Stoke defender Danny Higgenbotham is out for the season after rupturing a cruciate ligament two weeks ago against Chelsea, but the big omission from either side is Danny Sturridge, who is ineligible to play for Bolton after being fielded by his parent club Chelsea during their 7-0 third round rout of Ipswich at Stamford Bridge. Coyle will presumably juggle his side to accommodate the England U-21 international's absence, but Sturridge has been in fine scoring form since joining Bolton on loan and he'll be very difficult to replace.

Time

4:00 PM GMT (11:00 AM EST), Sunday April 17th.

Projected Lineups*

Stoke City (4-4-2): Thomas Sorenson; Danny Collins, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Andy Wilkinson; Matthew Etherington, Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap, Jermaine Pennant; Kenwyne Jones, Jonathan Walters.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jussi Jaaskelainen; Paul Robinson, Gary Cahill, David Wheater, Gretar Steinsson; Martin Petrov, Matt Davies, Fabrice Muamba, Johan Elmander; Rodrigo Moreno, Kevin Davies.

Pick

After the underdogs won at Wembley on Saturday, it seems a little foolish being confident that the better team will prevail. That said, I think Bolton will probably squeak through after a very difficult match - probably in extra time. Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Stoke City  (AET).

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