Sunday’s emphatic 5-0 victory for Stoke City over Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup semi-final was a result that few would have predicted prior to kick-off. The shock nature of the match and the result could well dictate the rest of the season for both clubs. Stoke’s upcoming final could prove a distraction, or their rampant display may inspire them to establish themselves for another season of Premier League football. Bolton’s insipid performance will see them desperate to ensure they end an otherwise creditable season with some pride.
On the back of their crushing victory Stoke will already be looking ahead to their date with Manchester City next month. Although their wealthier opponents will go in as favourites, goalscoring hero Matthew Etherington insists they have little to fear: “We
However amidst all the euphoria boss the Welshman will be eager to ensure the Potters do not take their eye off the ball during the season run-in, which contains a potentially tricky mix of games against Champions League chasers, including a second clash with City, and relegation-scrappers. While Stoke themselves do not appear in immediate danger of relegation thanks to their solid home form, they are far from mathematically safe. On 38 points, they lie 13th, just five points off the drop zone, meaning any slide in form may yet see them dragged into the mire. Fortunately for them, in an unusually close season, even a worst-case scenario collapse should still see them spared by the long list of clubs below them, and other teams on 38 points such as Sunderland being in dire form. Conversely should Stoke take any momentum from Sunday’s encounter into the league they could indeed finish in the top half.
Bolton, in contrast, will be looking to salvage some consolation from a season that effectively appears to be over for them. Everton’s strong form and Liverpool’s resurgence should ensure that they finish no higher than their current 8th position, still extremely respectable given prior expectations, but perhaps slightly disappointing after the strong start they made.
After such optimism, it remains to seen if the manner of Sunday’s defeat will knock the stuffing out of their players. Various members of the Wanderers squad have expressed their dismay at what unfolded at Wembley. Extremely strong words such as ‘ashamed’, ‘embarrassed’ and ‘devastated’ were used by the likes of Gary Cahill, Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies, while Owen Coyle has himself admitted his side let themselves down. With seemingly little to play for now, the Trotters boss faces a tough challenge towards the end of the season to ensure that his players’ heads do not drop and they do not endure an underwhelming end to what has on the whole been a successful season for the Lancastrians.