It took until extra time in a Cup tie that Stoke City already appeared to have won with a goal from Kenwyne Jones that belonged in the comedy category, but Jon Walters finally managed to score in the right net to earn his side a home fourth-round tie against Manchester City.
"He's got a big heart," Tony Pulis said of Stoke's two-goal hero. "To be honest I wasn't going to play him tonight – I thought he deserved a rest – but after what happened on Saturday I decided it might be best to let him play as soon as possible. You saw the result; that's the type of player Jon is."
Taking advantage of a splendid cross from Matthew Etherington that left little work to be done just five minutes into the extra period, Walters popped up at the far post to steer a diving header into the unguarded Crystal Palace net. It seemed such a routine piece of work it was tempting to wonder why Stoke had not managed it earlier, yet for most of normal time Walters was anonymous and Etherington struggled to make his crosses count.
It was only courtesy of a goalkeeping howler from Lewis Price, who fumbled a Jones header when he was in a position to make a straightforward catch, that Stoke managed to get in front in normal time at all. That rather scrappy goal appeared to be enough to win an undistinguished replay until Ryan Shawcross tripped Jonathan Williams to give away a penalty three minutes before the end of normal time. Glenn Murray scored as emphatically from the spot as Frank Lampard had in the same goalmouth at the weekend to force extra-time and, given that it was Palace's second penalty of the evening, not to mention Shawcross's second transgression, Stoke could hardly complain.
Walters settled home nerves by scoring so early in the added half-hour, however, and with Palace stretched at the back trying to get back into the game, he ran on to a pass from Jones to grab a second goal for good measure. For the second time in four days the Britannia Stadium resounded to the chant of "Super Jonny Walters", only on this occasion there was no sense of irony. Walters can consider himself forgiven. The lively Jones was also involved in the Cameron Jerome goal in the final minute that gave the scoreline a flattering gloss that neither Stoke nor the game really deserved.
Sir Alex Ferguson was supposed to be in attendance to have another look at Wilfried Zaha but called off at the last minute, possibly due to the Arctic temperatures at a notoriously exposed ground. He did not miss all that much from the winger – a mere 45 minutes – although it is obvious Zaha has class and tremendous balance.
Zaha made a couple of enterprising runs and was dispossessed rather more easily than might have been expected on another couple of occasions, but in front of a sparse crowd the game itself seemed to take a while to warm up. Apart from brief early chances for Peter Crouch at one end and Aaron Wilbraham at the other, the nearest thing to a highlight in the first half-hour was the Palace fans' chant of "Walters, Walters, give us a goal".
Zaha, booked for a dive after a penalty claim against Andy Wilkinson, enjoyed better luck with his next, when Shawcross brought him down. The referee, Anthony Taylor, pointed to the spot but Jermaine Easter's unconvincing penalty allowed Thomas Sorensen to make a save at the foot of his left-hand post. It was the only save of any note either goalkeeper had to make in the first half. Stoke in particular looked devoid of ideas up front. The Championship side enjoyed at least as much of an evenly contested first period, and in Zaha and Williams they had players who looked capable of springing a surprise.
Ian Holloway obviously thought otherwise because he took Zaha off at the interval and replaced him with Yannick Bolasie. "His ankle was hurting," the Palace manager said. "Probably from the challenge that the referee said was a dive. It wasn't, he was caught. I don't like Wilfried being labelled a cheat when I know he's not. It offends me."
Pulis tried sending on Cameron Jerome and waited until an hour had passed before withdrawing the ineffective Crouch in favour of Jones. Michael Owen, who made his first Stoke start in the goalless draw at Selhurst Park, remained unused on the bench.
Jones immediately brought the crowd to life by hitting a post, a considerably better effort, as it happened, than the one that put the home side in front from the resultant corner.
Etherington's cross came all the way through to Jones at the far post, yet his header lacked power and went straight to the goalkeeper. Backpasses have been hit with more ferocity and Jones looked as surprised as everyone else in the stadium when Price somehow let the tame effort slip out of his grasp and into the net.
"The gulf was just too great in extra time," Holloway said. "The subs they brought on took the game away from us, but if you want someone to sum up the Stoke spirit it has to be Walters. I thought he was terrific and I kept wishing our fans would shut up."