Valencia 1-0 Stoke (agg: 2-0)

Valencia players celebrate their goal
Valencia players celebrate their goal

Battling Stoke City crashed out of the Europa League in the round of 32 following a narrow defeat by Valencia.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Potters, who fielded a weakened team, were not disgraced in going down to another single-goal loss.

Jonas scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half, calmly converting Pablo Hernandez's cross.

But Stoke had chances of their own, with Kenwyne Jones twice being denied by Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

After leaving nine first-team players at home, the finger of frustration will be pointed squarely in the direction of manager Tony Pulis by the 4,000 Stoke supporters who made their way to the Mestalla.

Whether players like Peter Crouch, Jon Walters and Matthew Etherington would have had the necessary nous to humble a team third only to Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain's La Liga is debateable.

They certainly would not have offered more industry than their understudies, who performed admirably against a team almost as comfortable in possession as any of their more illustrious Spanish rivals.

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What they might have brought to the Mestalla, however, is a more ruthless cutting edge.

While Jones, Ricardo Fuller and Cameron Jerome gave the Valencia defenders an uncomfortable night physically, none of them could apply a finishing touch.

After all, Stoke had two glorious chances to haul themselves into the tie before Jonas scored in the 24th minute.

Following the initial shock of seeing Daniel Parejo rattle their woodwork with a curling free-kick inside 60 seconds, the old adage that change is as good as a rest seemed to ring true for the visitors.

They carved open their hosts with two delightful moves that could and should have hauled them back into the tie.

First Rory Delap sent in a teasing cross which an unmarked Jones could only flick at Guaita, before the same player was sent scampering clear by Wilson Palacios - only to scuff his shot straight at the keeper.

Such profligacy proved costly when Hernandez showed a neat turn of pace to breeze past Danny Collins and pull the ball back for the unmarked Jonas to tap into an empty net from six yards out.

Stoke's Diego Arismendi was fouled in the build-up to the goal, but the catalogue of defensive errors that ensued as Valencia swept up the other end to score was more concerning than any mistake by the officials.

A lack of craft in midfield meant the pace and muscle of City's front three was the only way they could force their way back into the tie.

They showed fleeting glimpses of working an opening when Palacios poked wide, while Jermaine Pennant offered a new outlet on the flanks once he was summoned from the bench, but it was Valencia who looked more threatening as the game opened up.

The best of those chances came when Jonathan Woodgate hit a free-kick into empty space in the middle of the pitch and watched in horror as it was picked up by a Valencia midfielder, who put Roberto Soldado in on goal.

Thankfully for the former England defender, Thomas Sorensen blocked the striker's shot with his legs.

With matches against Chelsea, Liverpool in the FA Cup sixth round, and Manchester City on the horizon next month, Pulis may have had one eye on domestic competition when making the raft of changes as his side came up short in continental combat.

Only time will tell whether his decision is vindicated.

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