By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) – The plucky underdogs were brought down to earth as Manchester City, Everton and Stoke City reached the League Cup semi-finals on Tuesday, ending the hopes of second-tier sides who felled fancied opponents in the last round.
Manchester City were far short of their finely-tuned best at home to Hull City, but still managed a comprehensive 4-1 victory while Everton won 2-0 at Middlesbrough and Stoke beat visitors Sheffield Wednesday by the same scoreline.
Wilfried Bony’s 12th-minute goal calmed City’s nerves at the Etihad Stadium, but resilient Hull defending ensured it stayed close before late efforts from Kelechi Iheanacho and a Kevin De Bruyne double put a more presentable gloss on the scoreline.
Hull, who grabbed a late consolation from Andrew Robertson, had knocked out surprise Premier League contenders Leicester City in their last League Cup outing and City boss Manuel Pellegrini was not going to take them lightly.
The City side included a number of fresh faces from their league victory over Southampton on Saturday, but was still packed full of talent, including playmaker David Silva who was making his first start in almost two months following injury.
Things looked bleak for the Championship side when Bony broke the deadlock with only minutes on the clock as De Bruyne’s effort struck the post and the Ivorian followed up to finish.
That should have signalled the opening of the floodgates, but Hull stubbornly fended off the Premier League leaders and their rearguard were not breached again until the 80th minute.
Raheem Sterling whipped a cross in from the left and Iheanacho tapped in from close range to give City breathing space before De Bruyne grabbed a poacher’s goal and wrapped up the tie with a curling free kick from the edge of the box.
“We only had 72 hours to recover (from the 3-1 win over Southampton) so it was a very good answer from all the squad,” said City boss Pellegrini, whose side are also through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
“The most important thing is to be involved in all the competitions at this stage. We were very solid and we didn’t allow chances for Hull to score.”
Middlesbrough, who knocked out Manchester United in the fourth round, saw their luck run out against Everton while Stoke was the end of the road for Arsenal’s conquerors Wednesday.
Everton went in front at the Riverside with a superb piece of individual skill from Gerard Deulofeu after 20 minutes. The Spaniard ran from inside the Middlesbrough half before beating two defenders and finishing low from the edge of the area.
He then set up striker Romelu Lukaku eight minutes later with a delightful cross from the right that the leaping Belgian powerhouse headed superbly into the net.
“It was a fantastic occasion, to be involved in the cup,” Everton manager Roberto Martinez told Sky Sports.
“It is a terrific feeling to get through to the semi-final and good memory for our football club.”
Wednesday made the biggest splash in the previous round, crushing visitors Arsenal 3-0, but any hope of a repeat at the Britannia Stadium looked faint when Ibrahim Afellay volleyed into the corner on the half-hour for his first Stoke goal.
The tie was wrapped up with 15 minutes to play when Phil Bardsley smashed home a low free kick with Stoke reaching their first League Cup semi-final since they won the trophy in 1972.
Record eight-times League Cup winners Liverpool visit Southampton on Wednesday in an all-Premier League clash to decide the last place in the semi-finals.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris)