Saturday was another game where Stoke’s fate was ultimately sealed by the man in the middle, the latest culprit Andre Marriner, who applied a logic known only to himself that provided anything but a level playing field as the Potters lost 1-0 to Tottenham.
Marriner is no stranger to controversy, having sent off the wrong man only weeks ago. Those with a longer memory will remember his failure to send off Gary Neville for scything down Matty Etherington having already been on a yellow. I’m not necessarily suggesting Marriner made the wrong decision in sending Ryan Shawcross off, but the manner of his dismissal was poor having seemingly forgotten he had booked him earlier.
Shawcross’ confidence in recent weeks stepping upfield has been most welcome, but his decision-making on Saturday wasn’t great. It was that poor judgement and rush of blood that gave the referee a decision to make, and while some may have given the defender a final warning, more often than not, given it was so far up the field, I think the writing was on the wall.
- Report: Stoke 0-1 Tottenham
It was the referee’s failure to apply consistency throughout that angered the Stoke fans, and a certain Danny Rose’s audition for "Platoon 2" didn’t help either. Marriner didn’t make the best start to the game, failing to send off Emmanuel Adebayor for a blatant elbow to Shawcross’ face. This, lest we forget, is the player who stayed on his feet despite being elbowed and head-butted by Marouane Fellaini last season, so him going to ground would suggest this was a bad one. In the other main talking point of the game, it was perhaps Geoff Cameron’s honesty that saved Rose a similar fate as he stayed on his feet following a two-handed shove. Sadly, the Spurs players were not so honest and found their way to the deck quicker than the rain showers that littered the game throughout.
On reflection, Cameron perhaps should have gone down in an attempt to coax a red out of Marriner; it would have meant he would have done something to affect the latest game he has struggled in. It was another disappointing showing from Cameron, who was again far too easily beaten down his side. The tackles he lunged in for and won in the first half of the season have disappeared. He quite clearly needs a rest, though given that Shawcross is now banned for the Fulham game, he could find himself shifted into the middle.
Given the side has struggled at times in the final third these past few weeks, I feel like too much pressure is being put on Marko Arnautovic to produce. When he doesn’t, it makes it look like he is the problem. That’s far from the case. He should be allowed to have an average game every now and then, and this was certainly one of those. Five of his eight attempted dribbles failed and his decision-making and certainly finishing need to improve, but I have every confidence they will.
Mark Hughes was intelligent with his substitutions, and the change he made in the shape worked a treat as the Potters sought to get back in to the game. The pace and movement in the final third saw a marked improvement following Peter Crouch being subbed off, and much as I suggested in my preview, the same personnel should be given the opportunity from the start in the side’s remaining matches.
It wouldn’t be fair to finish the piece without mentioning another vital player -- the fans. Described by Match of the Day as "poisonous" and by Tim Sherwood as the most hyped-up crowd he has ever heard, they more than played their part and will hopefully continue to do so for the remainder of the campaign and beyond.