This week saw Stoke City manager Tony Pulis complain to Mike Riley, the chairman of the Referees’ Association, over perceived unfair treatment towards the Potters by match officials this season.
The Welshman, whose side is currently bottom of the Premier League fair play table, has been infuriated by decisions against his side of late and will hope that a meeting with the experienced former referee yields some benefits in the upcoming festive period.
It is not the first time that Pulis has felt compelled to criticise decisions taken by officials against his side, with his finger of blame even pointing towards the likes of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for highlighting Stoke’s physical style as something to be watched by referees.
However, is Pulis right? Certainly in Stoke’s last Premier League outing, a goalless draw at Aston Villa, he can certainly have some justification for his claims after seeing particularly bad challenges from Ciaran Clark and Enda Stevens go unpunished by referee Roger East. Potters’ defender Ryan Shotton was then shown a red card for two innocuous challenges on Villa’s Fabian Delph.
Similarly, Pulis had to do without the services of Charlie Adam for the trip to Villa Park after the Scottish midfielder, hardly seen as one of the Premier League’s bully boys, was suspended after picking up a fifth booking in the previous fixture.
Another example saw Chelsea’s David Luiz somehow avoid a red card for a scything two-footed, reckless “tackle” on Jonathan Walters earlier in the campaign – an incident that could have ended the Ireland international’s career had he not evaded the tackle.
Of course, that is not to say that Stoke are completely without fault. Without doubt, the style that Pulis imposes will always lend itself towards greater physicality and, as a consequence, an increased number of bookings and suspensions.
Put simply, to ask a team that contains the likes of Andy Wilkinson, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Dean Whitehead, Steven N’Zonzi and even Peter Crouch, whose lanky frame can often draw the ire of the match officials, to stay clear of bookings seems fanciful to say the least.
Indeed, there are even some who would argue that, rather than see it as a concern, Pulis should in fact admire his side’s commitment to the cause. As long as it does not breach the mark, as say Shawcross’ tackle that resulted in Aaron Ramsey’s leg being broken back in 2010, then some will argue it can only be a positive sign for the Potters.
The problem is that at the moment it certainly does appear as if referees are far too lenient for sides playing against Stoke, some of whom are just as hard and snappy into the tackle as the Potters are. It certainly does not help when Fulham manager Martin Jol compares Pulis’ men to a rugby team either.
Perhaps therein lies the crux of Pulis’ concern: while it is acceptable that Stoke will always draw the attention of the referee more than any other team, that should be down to the nature of their tackling, rather than anything an outside influence or manager may say.
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