A contentious penalty decision will no doubt yet again be at the forefront of the post-mortem that Mark Hughes will conduct on Monday morning. Stoke City fell short of ideas and lacked bite in a defeat that sent them to the bottom of the Premier League table.
For the second Premier League game in a row, the Potters fell foul of a new “clampdown” by referees in an attempt to minimise grappling and holding between attackers and defenders in the box.
The only goal of the game came from the penalty spot. Phil Bardsley was adjudged to have intentionally clipped the heels of Everton new boy Ashley Williams, as the pair headed towards a delivery into the box from a corner. The replay however seemed to show that the collision was merely a coming together. There was no intention on Bardsley’s part to bring the defender down.
The penalty was taken by Leighton Baines, with goalkeeper Shay Given guessing the correct way. Given suffered the misfortune of the ball hitting the post only to rebound off of his back and into the net. Statisticians put it into the own goal column against the Irishman.
Despite the debate surrounding the award of the penalty, it is hard to argue that the hosts didn’t deserve the three points on the balance of play. Stoke came out of the blocks reasonably quickly. The first quarter of the game provided a balanced opening with half-chances at either end, until the home side began to create the majority of the openings.
Stoke were lucky not to fall behind before the half-hour mark as Ashley Williams’ header left Given stranded. A goal-line clearance from Peter Crouch – who deservedly kept his place in the starting XI after his hat-trick at Stevenage mid-week – kept the scores level. Shortly before half time Given was called into action again, tipping Kevin Mirallas’ effort over the bar.
The start of the second half brought more of the same. Everton started on the front foot, and five minutes in Michael Oliver followed on from Mike Dean in awarding the dubious spot-kick to the Toffees.
Not long after falling behind, a venture into the Everton half called Toffees goalkeeper Martin Stekelenburg into action. An effort from Marko Arnautovic was deflected onto the crossbar after the Dutchman saved with his legs. The run of play quickly resumed though, as Everton looked to build on their lead with substitute Arouna Kone and the impressive Ross Barkley both going close.
Stoke could have nicked an equalizer had Arnautovic’s pull back in the latter stages of the game found the feet of Jon Walters. Walters, who had not long been on the pitch after replacing Crouch, found the pass rolling an agonising yard or so behind him.
Leighton Baines brought a solid save out of Given in added time, his free-kick curled over the wall, forcing him to push the effort away. Oliver then blew the full-time whistle, condemning Stoke to their second loss in the first three games of the season.
There is no hiding from the fact that Stoke were second best today. The midfield was overrun for the majority of the game, with Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas being allowed to pull too many strings for Mark Hughes’ liking.
However, it may well have been a different story. We could have been looking back counting our lucky stars having escaped Goodison Park with a point, had it not been for the concession of a second penalty in as many games under the new enforcement of contact in the box by referees.
Stoke take the brunt of the new refereeing regime
Ryan Shawcross felt the wrath of the new interpretations last weekend when he was penalised for holding the shirt of Nicolas Otamendi. Raheem Sterling was punished for a similar offence at the other end – two normally ignored instances, two penalties.
Shawcross then publicly announced that he intended to change the way he defended after all clubs were warned of the crackdown by officials in pre-season briefings. This was different, as Bardsley had no claim on Williams’ shirt, nor was he holding him. It was nothing more than a tangle of legs that can happen anywhere on the pitch.
The Top Flight
Most involved in the game feel that the new refereeing directive is a positive one. Far too many blatant off-the-ball incidents in the box went unnoticed and ignored in the past. It will though be difficult for referees to find a medium and become consistent.
Mike Dean is trying to pioneer this by awarding another penalty for the same reasons he gave two at the Britannia last week. He took control of Crystal Palace’s clash with Bournemouth on Saturday, and awarded the home side a spot-kick.
It could take time for the men in the middle to all be singing off the same hymn sheet. Mark Hughes may find he’s not the only one to feel aggrieved in the coming weeks. Even so, Stoke need to improve at both ends of the pitch, and fast.
Our condolences, on behalf of everyone at All Stoked Up
The post-match analysis was a subdued affair after Saturday’s game. It became apparent that an Everton fan who was taken ill during the game yesterday later died in hospital.
Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family of the fan and everyone in the Everton FC community.