STOKE CITY took another momentous step forward by securing a place in the Group Stages of the Europa League . . . and they did it some style with an emphatic victory over Swiss Super League leaders FC Thun at the Britannia Stadium.
The rampant Potters settled the issue with three goals in the space 13 first half minutes to put them among some of Europe's top clubs in Friday's draw and they eventually ran out 5-1 winners on aggregate over the two legs of the Play-Off tie.
New signing Matthew Upson marked his home debut with the opening goal and Kenwyne Jones followed up his injury-time equaliser at Norwich with two more headers, while City's scoring was completed by midfielder Glenn Whelan.
Manager Tony Pulis even had the luxury of resting some of his players with Sunday's game at West Brom in mind as Jermaine Pennant, Marc Wilson and Jon Walters were all withdrawn early in the second half with the Potters in command.
FC Thun did pull a goal back in the closing stages through substitute Andreas Wittwer but it was nothing more than a consolation effort.
The triumph means that City have now won all four of the Europa League ties so far to reach the Group Stages and their unbeaten run at the start of this season is now stretched to six matches with two draws in the Premier League as well.
The encouraging news for the Potters before the kick-off was that Pennant had shrugged off the problem which forced his withdrawal in the first half at Norwich, but Delap was not risked as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
As for the first leg in Switzerland last week, both Begovic and Woodgate were rested with Sorensen and Upson taking their places while Wilkinson and Pugh were given chances in the absence of suspended pair Huth and Etherington.
The early stages of the game were fairly uneventful, but Thun had enough possession to suggest that it could be an uneasy evening for City.
Pennant posed the first threat for the Potters after latching onto a Jones pass, but although he lifted the ball to the far post in the direction of the Trinidad and Tobago international, the Swiss defenders were able to clear that danger.
The volume in the crowd increased when Whitehead burst forward and found Walters on the right before continuing his run into the box where the former Sunderland midfielder was only inches away from getting on the end of the cross.
City were beginning to build a head of steam and when Pennant checked his run to send over a cross with the left foot, Jones rose to send his header flashing wide of the target with the Thun 'keeper Djuki scrambling across his line.
After a subdued start, the Potters went in front in the 25th minute from a set-piece and it was a special moment for Upson.
Pennant sent over a menacing corner from the left hand side which found the former West Ham defender at the far post and he held off the challenge of Schindelholz to lift his header into the roof of the net from close range.
Five minutes later and the Play-Off tie was as good as over when City grabbed their second as Pennant's pinpoint cross found Jones whose stooping header was powerful enough to slide under the body of the diving Djukic.
Thun's struggle to deal with the crosses being delivered into the box proved to be their undoing again in the 38th minute as Pennant's corner whipped in from the right this time was only half cleared to Whelan on the edge of the box and despite onrushing Luthi, he curled his shot over a stranded Djukic into the net.
If there was any suggestion that City would take their foot off the gas then Wilkinson proved otherwise with a barnstorming run to the edge of the box which led to him unleashing a left foot shot which was no trouble for Djukic.
Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before Pulis made his first change as Pennant was rested and Soares was given a rare opportunity in his place.
Moments later and Wilson became the second player to be withdrawn early with Sunday's game in mind and Collins came on at left back.
Despite the reshuffle, City continued to push forward looking for a fourth and Whelan released Walters on a run down the left but as he shaped to try a shot at goal, Schindelholz managed to recover well to clear the danger.
Wilkinson was prominent in another move forward as he burst past two defenders to send over a cross but Whitehead's firm header from 12 yards out was directed straight at the Thun 'keeper who gathered it quite comfortably.
The fourth goal arrived in the 72nd minute and it was a special moment for Soares whose electrifying burst past two defenders ended with him sending over a cross from which Jones powered his header past Djukic.
City had other chances to add to their goal tally, but it was Thun who hit back 13 minutes from time when a deep cross into the box carried through to Wittwer at the far post and he lashed a left foot shot past Sorensen from a tight angle.The goal was the only blemish on an otherwise excellent performance from the Potters as they advanced into tomorrow's draw in Monaco.