Stoke City have had wretched luck on a couple of counts this season.
There have been a series of injuries to key players, mostly unavoidable and picked up in matches, and there is a growing list of grievances about refereeing decisions.
If the latter even themselves out over time, Stoke have a few in the bank.
David Webb was the latest entrant to the hall of horrors with the award of an injury time penalty in Swansea’s favour last night, claiming that Jack Clarke had tripped Kyle Naughton.
Michael O’Neill pondered at full-time whether officials were performing differently in matches played behind closed doors.
He said: “I think unfortunately we’re in an environment when there are no crowds in the stadium and I feel that teams are claiming for everything and putting officials under undue pressure. You need the officials to be strong in that situation.
“I just couldn’t see that if there 20,000 people here tonight. I couldn’t see the referee pointing to the spot in that situation. I thought it was a really poor decision.”
It’s an indictment on the EFL that the decision is not even the worst this season. Here are four at the tip of the iceberg.
4) Lee Gregory goal disallowed v Norwich (Geoff Eltringham)
Stoke had come back from 3-0 down to 3-2 and were gung-ho in search of a leveller against 10 men, to the extent that
that Norwich completed 128 passes in the first 20 minutes but only five in the last 20 minutes.
Sam Clucas whipped in an inswinging corner and, first of all, some appreciation is due for Nick Powell’s incredible leap to get his head on the ball.
But then what happened?
Powell’s header went high, very high, and sub keeper Michael McGovern and defender Christoph Zimmermann and Stoke striker Lee Gregory were positioning themselves for it to come down like fielders looking for a catch.
Zimmermann keeps hold of Gregory, who reads the drop to knock it over the line.
McGovern is second to that position and Gregory is in his way as he tries to clamber to the bounce. Zimmermann tries to hold Gregory out of the way but the whistle goes against the striker. Goal disallowed, free-kick to Norwich.
Michael O’Neill said at full time: “The sending off gave us a bit of a life line. We had to capitalise on that, which we did but ultimately we just couldn’t find a third goal. By all accounts, the goal that was disallowed was… rather soft.”
He added: “Look, we didn’t lose the game because of the referee but it wasn’t a brilliant performance from him. It was a difficult game to referee but I thought some of the decisions were… certainly not in our favour.
“We will look at the game back and the most important thing we can take from it is that we have to be better in the opening part.
“We have to give credit to the opposition. I thought they were the best team we’ve played and they also have the best striker in the league, I think, in Pukki. He showed that tonight with the quality of his movement and the quality of his finishing.”
3) Nathan Collins red card v Barnsley (Michael Salisbury)
Nathan Collins was devastated in the changing room after being shown such a contentious red card against Barnsley.
The linesman alerted referee Michael Salisbury to an alleged off the ball incident that saw Dominik Frieser hit the deck mid-way through the second half – immediately shouting, “Red card, red card!”
Stoke were able to successfully appeal against Collins’ automatic three-match ban but they ended up drawing 2-2 on the night when 11 men had been expected to go on and win.
“It’s not really the referee’s fault because the referee has to take the information he’s been given by the assistant,” said O’Neill at the time.
“But having watched it back, the assistant should never made that decision. I’m not sure he was in a great position to see.
“He was looking along the line but there are three bodies between him and Nathan as well and the Barnsley player.
“It’s not a situation where someone would elbow someone in the face and Nathan is not that kind of lad. He’s devastated in there and it’s a really poor decision.”
Linesman Richard Wild spent the next weekend in League Two.
2) Kyle Naughton penalty v Swansea (David Webb)
Where to start?
“Yes, it’s a big call,” said O’Neill. “An incorrect call in my opinion, having seen the incident back.
“The referee acknowledged there was a foul on James Chester leading up to it. Andre Ayew runs into James Chester intentionally and throws himself to the ground to try to win a free-kick. The ref decides not to give that and then within seconds gives a penalty for what he alleges was a trip on Naughton.
“Having watched it back there’s no way I can determine that slowing it down. I think the contact on the Swansea player is from his own leg.
“The referee’s assistant on the near side didn’t give it, the referee took sole responsibility to give that decision.”
It changed the game and could, in Swansea’s case in a tight battle for promotion, affect the whole season and be worth tens of millions of pounds.
1) Angus Gunn barged into the goal v Watford (Andy Davies)
There are a few contentious calls that have gone against Stoke, whether it was an offside call for Barnsley’s goal last week or Jamal Lowe being offside for Swansea’s first last night.
But they are to be expected in the cut and thrust of a season.
That night at Watford in November, however, set a standard for stinkers.
Stoke had been leading 1-0 and Angus Gunn hadn’t really had to get his gloves dirty until just before the half-hour mark when it all kicked off.
He dived to his left to tip a Tom Cleverley shot onto the underside of the bar. Ben Foster, at the other end, said: “Oh my days what a save. That was —-ing world class! That was nearly the best save I’ve ever seen live.”
Gunn leaped to pounce on the ball as it bounced the right side of the line and Joao Pedro, who was just a little bit late, shoved into the keeper.
That caused referee Andy Davies’s watch to alert him that the ball had crossed the line – and he awarded the equaliser, to the astonishment of Stoke players, Watford players, coaches, managers and all those watching. Watford went on to win 3-2 via another disputed goal.
Pundit Ryan Lowe, manager of Plymouth Argyle, said: “He’s been let down there, Michael O’Neill, and he will be aggrieved because the referee should wait.
“It’s one, two, three, four, five seconds it hasn’t gone off (after Gunn had saved Tom Cleverley’s shot) and then the watch automatically goes off when he gets bundled into the net.
“It’s not over the line from the shot. Then it’s a foul on the goalkeeper. Sometimes that happens – I’m a striker so I’ll look after strikers – but that’s an obvious foul.”
EFL on Quest host Colin Murray added: “Joao Pedro can’t believe his luck as they go to take the kick-off. That wasn’t only it as well.”
Ismaila Sarr got the winner in injury time – after he had got away with a handball in the build-up.
Lowe said: “It’s a clear handball. The referee just needs to give the handball, Michael O’Neill can set his team up, ping the ball 50 yards down the pitch, they’re on 93 minutes and they see the game out to take a point at Watford.
“From second phase, the ball coming back in, Sarr is the man. Great finish from him but disappointing from Stoke.”
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O’Neill was not happy.
He said: “We didn’t think (the first) was a goal. Looking back at it and seeing the television replays I think it’s clear that the shot hasn’t crossed the line and then the technology is triggered by the Watford player and Angus, which puts the ball over the line.
“We felt very aggrieved by the goal but I thought our reaction to that was very good.
“We go behind in the game. The penalty is poor, we lose the ball in a bad area and don’t clear it but how we react to that is excellent.
“And then we feel the referee missed a handball in the build-up to the third goal as well. Overall it was one of those nights when we felt we deserved something, didn’t get anything, and we have to deal with it and move on to the next game.”
He added: “They are being told by the technology but they have to look at events as well. On this occasion, technology didn’t help them in any way. Without technology I don’t think he’d have given the goal. It was the technology which told him the goal was there.
“But I think in this case when you review events it was a very harsh decision against us.”