THE CURTAIN finally came down on Stoke City's superb Europa League campaign at the Mestalla Stadium on. . . but they bowed out of the competition with their heads held high after giving Valencia an almighty scare in their own backyard.
Whilst the 2-0 aggregate scoreline suggests a relatively straightforward passage through to the Round of 16 for the La Liga side, they could, in fact, been left red-faced had the Potters managed to convert any of three clear-cut chances in the opening twenty minutes of the second leg encounter in Spain.
Kenwyne Jones, who proved a nuisance to the Los Che backline throughout, will feel aggrieved not to have got on the scoresheet on at least one occassion having been sent clear by Wilson Palacios and the £8 million striker went close on a couple of other occasions with a header and a 20-yard drive.
While it was a case of what might have been for the Potters early on, Valencia settled their nerves with a goal in the 24th minute which was slotted home by the Brazilian Jonas after excellent work on the right hand side by Pablo Hernandez who burst forward before delivering a telling cross.
That didn't really change City's mission because they had to score twice from the outset to stand any realistic hope of going through and although Valencia had plenty of opportunities themselves, there were also moments at the other end when the Round of 32 tie could have been thrown wide open again.
To complete a frustrating night for Jones, he squandered another good chance in the last minute which could have kept hopes of an upset alive into injury time.
Despite all the pre-match focus on the players left at home, Tony Pulis signalled his intentions by naming three strikers in his line-up with Cameron Jerome and Ricardo Fuller alongside Jones, while Diego Arismendi was given a starting berth in midfield together with Salif Diao and Palacios.
There was also a surprising change in goal where Thomas Sorensen came in, which may mean Asmir Begovic taking over in the Premier League side on Sunday.
Any hopes of producing a famous upset at the impressive Arena could have diminished as early as the second minute when midfielder Daniel Parejo sent a curling 25-yard free-kick crashing onto the cross bar after Jonathan Woodgate had tripped Pablo.
Stoke, backed by a fabulous travelling army of supporters, actually looked the brighter of the two sides after that incident with the power, pace and skill of the front three causing the Los Che backline a number of problems.
In fact, the opening goal of the game should have come for the visitors eleven minutes in when a quickly taken corner culminated in Palacios delivering a teasing centre, straight into the path of Jones, but he misjudged his jump and failed to trouble the 'keeper from seven-yards out.
Moments later, the Trinidadian was again in the thick of the action, as a quick and flowing counter-attack eventually produced a glorious opportunity for the big striker, but after shrugging off the Valencia defender he scuffed his effort goalwards and Vicente got down smartly to palm the ball around the post.
Lady luck was always going to be needed for Pulis' side to upset the odds in mainland Spain, but not for the first time this year it continued to desert them.
This time the referee waved play on after a clear foul on Arismendi right on the edge of the penalty box; with salt rubbed into the wounds some 10 seconds later as the La Liga side took the lead.
A classic break down the right brought out the best of the Spanish side with Pablo using his speed to beat Collins, and then displayed his craft to pick out the unmarked Jonas at the far post, who was gifted the easiest goal of his career inside the six-yard box.
Whilst undoubtedly hurt by that undeserved goal, it was the Potters who continued to ask the majority of the questions from their opposition with Jones again going close with a rasping half-volley from 20-yards which forced Vicente into another superb save.
The hosts did eventually manage to start to assert themselves on proceedings more as the half wore on, but in truth very rarely threatened to extend their two goal aggregate lead.
It wasn't until ten minutes after the interval that any of the sides created the games next opportunity. This time it was Jones proving to be the provider for Palacios, only for the former Spurs man to skew his effort wide of goal.
At the other end Sorensen and his defenders had to weather a mini storm as the hosts looked to turn the screw on the tie, with both Jordi Alba and Pareja going agonisingly close.
The introduction of leading goalscorer Roberto Soldado dramatically lifted the atmosphere around the almost full to capacity Mestalla Stadium; and he very almost marked his arrival in style, but he was unable to get the better of Sorensen, who denied him with his legs after Mehmet Topal played him through.
Pulis responded by introducing Jermaine Pennant and Ryan Shotton from the bench, at the expense of South American midfield pair Palacios and Arismendi.
As in the first leg, the game became a little bad tempered in the closing stages as Valencia's players showed their displeasure at one or two challenges from City.
That resulted in a number of free kicks being award at either end, the home side the first to go close when the dangerous Pablo dinked his shot over the wall but wide of the target.
It was Pennant who tried his luck at the other end on two occasions in quick succession, his first effort hitting the wall and then moments later he fired well wide of the target.
Back came Valencia and Sorensen's handling had to be good a number of times, none more so than when he produced an excellent save to deny Roberto Soldado.
As City's European adventure moved into its final few minutes, Jones' frustrating time was capped by a header wide from five yards out after being set up by Pennant.
When the referee brought the tie to an end, it was a case of defeated by no means disgraced for the Potters at the end of a run which produced many memorable moments.