A brave display from Tranmere Rovers went unrewarded tonight, as Stephen Ireland and Peter Crouch ensured Stoke City would progress into the fourth round of the Capital One Cup, after a 2-0 victory.
Ireland’s first-half strike looked to have been the decider for much of the game, but Crouch made it two with the last kick to put the result beyond doubt.
The hosts performed admirably against their Premier League opponents, and came closest when Chris Atkinson shot wide with the score at 1-0.
Following Saturday’s defeat at Notts County, Ronnie Moore made two changes to his side, with Ash Taylor and Cole Stockton replacing Ian Goodison and Joe Thompson.
Moore’s side started well too, with a good atmosphere inside Prenton Park, they held their own against Premier League opposition early on.
Marco Arnautovic’s long range strike was the first of the game, but fell harmlessly wide of the Rovers goal.
On nine minutes Glenn Whelan struck over the crossbar, as the hosts failed to let Stoke create any clear cut chances during a busy opening.
The visitors were getting closer however, and after Ireland had an effort deflected behind, Crouch headed Jermaine Pennant’s corner straight at Owain Fon Williams.
The two goal scorers, Crouch and Ireland, linked up well soon after, with the later dragging an effort wide of the mark.
The first Tranmere attempt came after 20 minutes, when Adam Dugdale headed an Evan Horwood free-kick wide.
However, Stoke made the breakthrough minutes later, Arnautovic slipped Ireland through expertly, and the midfielder passed the ball beyond Fon Williams for the opener on 23 minutes.
Jean-Louis Apka Akpro attempted a quick response for the hosts when he dribbled through the Stoke defence, but his effort was comfortably dealt with by Thomas Sorenson.
At the other end, Crouch set up Whelan, who shot at Fon Williams during a busy first half.
During the interval Moore made his first change, with Danny Holmes replacing Horwood, and taking up an unfamiliar left back position.
After the break Stoke continued to control the game, with Geoff Cameron’s cross-shot flying across the Rovers goalmouth.
The hosts came close to levelling on 56 minutes however, Akpa Akpro was sent scampering down the left, the striker cut inside, but bent his shot over the crossbar.
Rovers were inches from the equaliser around ten minutes later. Akpa Akpro’s deep cross was headed down by Ryan Lowe, but Atkinson, steaming in, couldn’t direct his effort on target.
With 17 minutes remaining Moore sensed a way back into this game, and produced Abdulai Baggie off the bench, in place of James Rowe.
Appeals for a Rovers penalty were turned down in the 80th minutes, when Lowe took a tumble.
With the clock ticking Stoke substitute, Matthew Etherington, beat a number of challenges down the left and swung a cross in for fellow substitute, Jon Walters, who headed over.
Oussama Assaidi then sent Walters through, but the striker rolled his shot wide of the target.
At the other end Akpa Akpro battled through a number of challenges, but shot wide on the fall and Rovers continued to get the rub of the green.
It wasn’t to be Tranmere’s night, and with the last kick of the game, former-England striker, Crouch chested down Etherington’s cross and stroked the ball past Fon Williams for Stoke’s second.
The goal was cruel on Rovers, who battled hard throughout against Mark Hughes’ men, but they’ll take heart from this, ahead of Saturday’s game with Port Vale.
Tranmere: Fon Williams, Hateley, Taylor, Dugdale, Horwood (Holmes 45 HT), Atkinson, Power, Rowe (Baggie 73), Lowe, Akpa Akpro, Stockton. Substitutes: Mooney, Goodison, Thompson, Sodje, Davies.
Stoke: Sorenson, Huth, Muniesa, Whelan, Pennant (Walters 76), Palacios, Arnautovic (Etherington 76), Shawcross, Cameron, Crouch, Ireland (Assaidi 61). Substitutes: Butland, Jones, Adam, Wilkinson.
Referee: David Coote
By Mark Ridgway