Stoke Focus - Does Tony Pulis need to employ more control over Stoke’s discipline?
On the face of it, Robert Huth’s three-match ban for accepting a Football Association charge following his elbowed challenge on Fulham’s Philippe Senderos should not be entirely headline-worthy.
Such instances are of course common place at the Manchester Uniteds of the Premier League, let alone the division’s lesser lights. Indeed, this is certainly not an intended attack on Stoke City, for whom physicality and competitiveness are not only crucial but admiral to their entire philosophy.
However, the Potters have fluctuated between bottom and second-bottom in the league’s fair play table this season and while their disciplinary record has been notoriously poor since their promotion in 2008, this season Tony Pulis’ men appear to have been hit harder by suspensions. Worryingly for the manager, the Potters have seen a number of bans to players in key squad areas.
For instance, after appearing on the brink after making a serious breakthrough into the upper echelons of the top half after defeating Liverpool on Boxing Day, Ryan Shawcross was absent through suspension for the visit of Southampton only a few days later.
The Potters duly put in their most shambolic defensive performance of the season, conceding three times at home (for the first time in 2012-13) to the relegation candidates. Thus, the prospect of losing Shawcross’ reliable defensive partner in Huth for the next three matches does not bode well for the Stoke backline.
That Southampton game also saw Steven N’Zonzi dismissed as the hosts went 3-1 down, although the Frenchman’s red card was later rescinded by the FA. Even on the opening day of the campaign, Dean Whitehead, who currently has the less-than-distinguished honour of being the most ill-disciplined player in the entire Premier League, obtained a red card and was further punished by a late Reading equaliser that cost his side three points.
Indeed, when you consider the poorly-timed challenges from Glenn Whelan and Shawcross against Manchester City and Arsenal respectively, then Stoke’s disciplinary record could have been a lot worse.
Once again, this is not to specifically criticise Stoke City. The physicality and contact element is partly what makes not only Stoke but English football so widely admired. However, there remains a fine line between competitive aggression and ill-discipline.
Indeed, it is not even about the possible damage caused to other players. Simply, the recklessness shown by the Stoke players, particularly those of such importance and experience like Shawcross and Huth, has - and could continue to - cost valuable points for their side.
Pulis may have publicly criticised Huth for the incident that has led to his suspension but the Welshman’s previous public statements on his side’s disciplinary record has seen him firmly on the defensive, instead highlighting perceived unfair treatment from referees and the Football Association against his side.
Nobody is asking Stoke to suddenly shy away from 50/50 challenges and lose their competitive edge, but perhaps if the manager was to take a stand when it so clearly needs to be taken, both he and his team could not only finally earn the respect that they feel they often lack, but could also help secure more good results and continue progression up the league.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke v West Ham