Stoke City looked for all the world to be heading into half-time a goal to the good at St James' Park on Thursday before a crazy five minutes which saw three dismissals, a missed penalty and a controversial equaliser turned the game on its head.
One of those dismissals was for Potters manager Mark Hughes whose irate reaction to midfielder Glenn Whelan's sending off for a second bookable offence led to him being politely asked by referee Martin Atkinson to watch the rest of the game from the stands.
It's a good thing he probably hadn't found his seat in the short 184 seconds it took for his side to see red again or he might have blown a fuse.
A slightly 'dismayed' Mark Hughes told Sky Sports after the game:
"We're dumbstruck by the performance of the referee, unfortunately. People say he's one of the best referees in the league, and he's performed worse than the standard required today."
The Welshman has already been charged with improper conduct and could face further punishment for his post-game comments, but that has not deterred Stoke owner Peter Coates from continuing the attack on Atkinson's integrity. The Bet365 founder told The Telegraph:
“The performance of the referee and his officials was a disgrace and we will certainly be complaining to the relevant authorities."
“We cannot accept what happened to us at Newcastle without making some form of representation. It’s then up to the officials what they do but we found it hugely disappointing because there were so many poor decisions."
“There was no common sense applied and I don’t think either of the yellow cards for Glenn Whelan were deserved. For one of their goals I could clearly see the ball was out of play sitting high up in the stands."
Coates went on to deny that it was a case of "sour grapes", saying "we simply cannot accept what happened".
If you've never seen Coates then you would be forgiven for assuming that he was some sort of talking eagle given that he could spot the half-inch between leather and chalk from his lofty perch. But he is right - the ball was out and Newcastle's second goal shouldn't have stood.
Nothing is certain in football but given that a 45 minute hold-out with nine men would have warranted a Hollywood film being made in honour of it, is it really worth complaining over? The argument seems to wear thin beyond the two red cards.
Atkinson may have had a pretty awful game but disgraceful? It's true that luck was Newcastle's lady on the night and that Atkinson probably picked out her dress, but Stoke were as much the architects of their own downfall as Atkinson was a Geordie sympathiser and one can't help but feel that the referee is being made a scapegoat by the Stoke hierarchy in an effort to hide that.
The main bone of contention from Stoke's point of view was the dismissal of Whelan for two bookable offences with the first branded "ridiculous", the second "soft". There seems to be some confusion about what the first was for: the foul on Sissoko, kicking the ball away or squaring up to Yohan Cabaye. Not many seem to have considered that it could have been for all three combined.
In any case, having already been given a yellow card, rightly or wrongly, it is then ludicrous to go and kick someone five minutes later. It was needless and frankly just poor discipline. As was hauling down an out of form striker inside the box who might not have even gotten his shot on target, but you might find it hard to convince Hughes of that.
As Coates rightly says, there were many poor decisions but for the two crucial ones, the Potters' discipline left a lot to be desired. Coates and co. would also do well to recognise the pity shown towards their side which not only prevented a cricket score but also saved them from having to face Tottenham Hotspurs on Sunday without the services of their captain, who would have seen red in any other game for a rash and unnecessary challenge on Massadio Haidara.
Atkinson and his officials had very poor games on Thursday. The first sending off was soft while neither Newcastle's equaliser nor second goal should have stood and a whole host of stonewall penalties were not awarded to the home side, although that may just have been out of pity.
If the Potters are lodging an official complaint at all, it has to really be about the two dismissals. They were always going to lose after that so the weight of the decisions made afterwards were significantly lower, given also that both sides were on the wrong end of them.
The key word with regards to the first dismissal is 'soft'. 80% of referees if not more would not have seen the need to pull out the red card but having said that, you can have little sympathy for Whelan's stupidity. There is absolutely no question about the second.
So Stoke were unlucky. Very unlucky at that. But to question the referee's integrity by lodging an official complaint is too far. It seems simply to be a blatant attempt to draw attention away from the fact that they threw the game away through their indiscipline.
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