ALL SQUARE IN SEMI-FINALS
By Paul Higham
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Stoke City's home tie with Walsall and Wigan's game against Reading both ended goalless, and all of the four teams are still in with a chance of progressing to the final in Cardiff with the crucial second legs to be played on Wednesday night.
Both sides had several chances in the game at the Britannia Stadium but it was Walsall, who are looking for an immediate return to the First Division, that enjoyed the best chance of a scrappy first half with Don Goodman.
He broke clear of the defence from Andy Tilson's long ball but managed to blaze the ball wide when one-on-one with Stoke keeper Gavin Ward.
It was one of several chances that the former Wolves and Motherwell striker missed, and he could well rue those opportunities if Ray Graydon's men fail to win through to the final in the second leg.
The home side enjoyed chances as well and Graham Kavanagh went close in the second half with a 25-yard drive that flew just wide of Jimmy Walker's goal.
Walker was not needed to make a save until he made a superb stop from Peter Thorne's header that looked destined to hit the back of the net.
He then made another magnificent stop moments later, this time from a James O'Connor shot from the edge of the box.
Stoke were reduced to ten men five minutes from time when Ben Petty was shown the red card for a professional foul.
Pedro Matias broke clear for Walsall and looked odds-on to score when Petty pulled him down at the edge of the box and was given his marching orders.
Wigan and Reading where also unable to score a goal between them at the JJB Stadium, to leave their tie hanging in the balance.
Steve Bruce's side are looking to avenge last year's final defeat by Gillingham, but could have fallen behind early when goalkeeper Roy Carroll was forced into making two fine saves from headers.
Not many chances where created by either side in a nervy game, with Andy Liddell having the best of the chances for Wigan.
He broke clear of the Royals' defence and lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Phil Whitehead only for the ball to also clear the crossbar.
Alan Pardew's side were by far the happier with the result and are now firm favourites to go through after the second leg at the Madejski Stadium on Wednesday night.