Hughes, Stoke crash out of the FA Cup, still searching for an identity

It was another frustrating weekend for Stoke fans who saw their star-studded side exit the FA Cup at the first hurdle with a 2-0 home defeat against local rivals Wolves. It's the first time since 2009 that the Potters have left the competition at this stage but perhaps more embarrassing for Mark Hughes' men is that it was the opposition's first win in the FA Cup in almost six years.

It is a result that marks the end of a trying week for the manager and his players who have justifiably come under criticism for their respective performances. Saturday's game was the ideal opportunity to turn things around and get the fans back onside and while the side that was picked was largely in line with what most in the stands were wanting, they failed miserably and left the pitch to a chorus of boos.

The main criticism levelled at Hughes in recent weeks has been his uncharacteristic avoidance of flair players; instead opting to utilise a number of the old guard and tactics better known under his predecessor Tony Pulis. One of those -- Peter Crouch -- kept his place but the talents of Giannelli Imbula, Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri and want away star Bojan Krkic were all drafted in to support him.

They are the names that fans have been crying out for but their task was a difficult one given that the all-important defensive midfield roles didn't actually include a player who specialises there. It should therefore come as little surprise that this was an area of the pitch that struggled with no defensive minded players sitting deep to guard against a hungry and determined Wolves side.

Further up-field, the lesser spotted Imbula, Shaqiri and Bojan also failed to impress but then most creative talents would flop in the final third with a pace-less striker not making any runs to create space or opportunities. The manager had seen enough by half-time, though, and replaced both Imbula and Bojan for two players whom he seemingly has more faith in these days; Charlie Adam and Joe Allen.

It was a telling move that could have far reaching consequences for both players and one that, perhaps more worryingly, suggests that the manager has run out of ways to accommodate the flair and creativity he was so desperate to bring to the club. Amid speculation he is keen to leave , the departure of Bojan would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow as it was he who kick-started what looked like a revolution in the Potteries when he arrived from Barcelona in 2014.

He was the poster boy for just how much the side had changed since the days of Pulis' route-one football and there's an irony that it is he who now looks to be leaving as Hughes reverts to much the same tactics as the Welshman before him. It's a sad state of affairs and one that has seen a number of the fans start to seriously question his tenure; if they weren't already.

The significance of Imbula's early withdrawal is not to be underestimated, either, with this defeat the latest in a long line for the former Porto man who has struggled to justify his club record £18.3 million price tag. While he is not without blame for that, questions too must be asked of the person who not only predicted he would excel in the Premier League but who also seems incapable of coaching him to do so.

There's a palpable air of discontent on and off the pitch at the moment which is not helped by the man in charge stumbling from one team selection to the next with still no apparent clue as to what his best starting XI actually is. It's the departure from a philosophy of exciting, attacking football that is arguably the most concerning facet of his management at the moment, though, and it's difficult to see how he will now turn things around.

There's little doubt that he will be afforded the time and opportunity to remedy things by the club's Chairman Peter Coates; an experienced man who is not prone to knee-jerk reactions with his managers.

That said, even he must be starting to question why things have regressed so severely in the last 12 months and, much like the fans, he will have more than a keen eye on Saturday's trip to relegation threatened Sunderland.