Sunderland's hopes of a repeat of last season's Capital One Cup heroics are over after Marc Muniesa struck twice and sent Stoke City into the fourth round despite Jozy Altidore giving the home side the lead.
It was a close game in truth, with Stoke having the upper hand in the first half and Sunderland taking control in the second. The home side started quite brightly in an open start to the game with Altidore inches away from a Billy Jones cross, Stoke's Oussama Assaidi tested Costel Pantilimon but the Romanian goalkeeper comfortably saved and then Jack Rodwell fired just over the bar after a neat pull back from Will Buckley.
Then the moment we have all been waiting for came in the 16th minute when Jones found Altidore on the edge of the box and the big striker swivelled and slotted the ball into the corner and past Jack Butland in the visitor's goal. It was the American international's first goal in 30 games for Sunderland and only his third for the club since signing from AZ Alkmaar. He didn't play particularly well tonight but hopefully that goal gives him the confidence he has been sorely lacking.
Despite Altidore's goal, Stoke grew in confidence and comfortably had the upper hand after Sunderland's goal and for the remainder of the half. The visitors deservedly levelled after their left back Muniesa found himself in plenty of room inside the box and fired a shot that went through Pantilimon's legs, it was a goal that the 'keeper will probably think he could have done better with but the real problem was the amount of room the Spaniard found himself in the box and the ease with which he breezed past John O'Shea.
Adam Johnson had a free kick well saved by Butland but Stoke were on top and went close to going in at half time ahead twice, with Assaidi and former Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley both firing just wide of Pantilimon's goal. There was a flash point as the half wound down after Rodwell went in late on Steven Nzonzi and the latter retaliated by grabbing the Sunderland man around the throat. Rodwell was deservedly booked for his challenge but Nzonzi was a lucky man to escape a red card, as Mike Dean adjudged the Frenchman's action only worthy of a yellow card.
The home side improved in the second half, after Patrick van Aanholt replaced Sebastian Coates, which meant Billy Jones reverted to right back and Santiago Vergini partnered O'Shea in the middle. Although we were the better side for much of the second half we struggled to test Stoke's goal as our build up play was too slow and ponderous, to such an extent that it was Vergini who looked the most likely to create something, as he twice played outstanding through balls inside the Stoke left back, only for Mark Hughes' side to clear the ball out for a corner both times.
We almost took the lead, with Butland reacting brilliantly twice to keep out the lively Buckley, but it was Stoke who took the lead when Muniesa bundled Johnson off the ball after a corner was cleared and he ran unimpeded into the box with the home defence appealing for a foul and smashed the ball past Pantilimon at his near post. We may have had a good case for a free kick but Muniesa was again given too much room in the box and it's difficult not to question Pantilimon for both goals.
We huffed and puffed at that point and never really looked like grabbing an equaliser and it was Stoke who looked more likely to get another goal. Arnautovic in particular missed a sitter after he fired over when he really should have buried Muniesa's excellent cross.
Ricky Alvarez had a reasonable cameo, showing what he may be able to offer as he drove forward at every opportunity and looked to link up with his team-mates, albeit without any end product. We did have half a chance to equalise late on, with Jones getting on the end of Alvarez's deflected free kick but the full back jumped too early and failed to get any power onto his header which Butland comfortably gathered.
Overall it was a disappointing display. We could have won it if we had attacked with more purpose but, Buckley apart, we were too slow in our build-up play which allowed Stoke to get back in numbers whenever we threatened and not many will have done their first team chances any good.