Michael O’Neill was looking at Stoke City’s own performance rather than pointing the finger at the referee as a three-goal comeback was denied against Norwich.
Stoke were 3-0 down to the Championship leaders just before the hour mark last night – but after Emiliano Buendia was sent off for two cautions, Stoke ultimately thought they could wrestle at least a point from the game.
Tyrese Campbell and Nathan Collins brought it back to 3-2 before Lee Gregory poked in from close range – only for referee Geoff Eltringham to claim Gregory had blocked keeper Michael McGovern unfairly.
O’Neill said: “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.”
Stoke could have drawn level on points with Norwich had the result gone the other way but O’Neill was not impressed with the start – or the fact that Stoke shipped three goals again, as they had done in beating Huddersfield 4-3 at the weekend.
He said: “We’re disappointed we didn’t get back in the game. We were second best for 35 minutes. I thought Norwich were excellent and showed a lot of quality on the ball.
“We got back in the game just before half time and we were unlucky not to score when we hit the bar. Steven Fletcher also had a header well saved.
“Then I thought we were the better team in the second half. Unfortunately we conceded at a bad 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: “We are conceding too many. We said to the players before the game and after the game on Saturday that we can’t be expected to score three or four goals at home to take something from the game as we had to against Huddersfield.
“We were conscious of the quality of Norwich so we changed the shape of the team, which we thought would help us; a back three with wing-backs.
“But ultimately it didn’t. We gave them space in behind us and that’s where we conceded the goals. It’s something we have to continue to look to improve on.
“For the likes of Harry Souttar, it’s a different level. He’s coming up against Pukki, who is coming down from the Premier League, an international striker, and it’s a learning curve for some of the younger players who played tonight.”