Manchester City left it late to seal their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup as Pablo Zabaleta’s strike gave them a 1-0 win over Stoke City.
The rematch of the 2011 FA Cup final was, in truth, a poor game with both sides lazily plodding their way through the 90 minutes without really putting much effort into trying to win.
But eventually the Argentine full-back, in a departure from the game’s tempo, marauded forward on a quick break to fire beyond Thomas Sorenson and ensure his team’s safe passage through to the next round.
Carlos Tevez’s early strike had forced Sorenson into a save and the Dane did well to push it wide of the post, while David Silva rattled the crossbar with a curled shot as they pushed for a goal in the opening exchanges.
The Premier League champions then suffered a blow as centre-back and captain Vincent Kompany had to leave the field after injuring his ankle.
In terms of goalmouth action neither side really threatened during a tame and insipid second period but Zabaleta, in the 85th minute, was on hand to place the ball in the back of the net when Sergio Aguero’s pass eventually found him in acres of space eight-yards out.