Stoke City are kicking themselves for letting a win become a draw at the last moment against relegation rivals Luton Town. Peter Smith picks out the talking points from Kenilworth Road.
WAS IT A PENALTY?
“Soft,” said Michael O’Neill, or at least that was the message he had been given at full-time by staff who had seen the replay.
Even on slow motion video analysis, neither Luton’s penalty claim nor James Chester’s defence are particularly conclusive. It looks like Callum McManaman managed to get an outstretched foot to the ball and Chester’s momentum takes him into the forward.
There is no doubt, however, that Chester shouldn’t have dangled that leg – defenders should never dangle legs – especially in that position with McManaman whistling in on his right shoulder.
And especially because even if McManaman had got the ball, he was running away from goal and Stoke were stacked with defenders to deal with whatever he did next.
Weigh up the situation.
For goodness sake, if the sub wanted to sprint towards the corner flag as the game headed into injury time, let him – and that was the kind of decision making that Stoke should have been securing when they brought in experience on deadline day.
Luton had barely had a sniff for the previous 89 minutes. Danny Batth and Chester looked on course to secure a third clean sheet in a week.
Hopefully Stoke will beat Hull next week and all will be forgotten but on such split seconds can seasons swing.
HOW DID LUTON GET IN THAT POSITION?
Stoke’s left-back thinking has been high on the agenda for discussion ever since the utterly baffling decision to black list then push out Erik Pieters without having any replacement. There had been enough discussion previously about there not being any Pieters competition.
Anyway, Bruno Martins Indi has been tasked with filling that spot for the best part of this season after Nathan Jones’s experiment with James McClean.
By his own admission he is not Roberto Carlos – but he is a defender. A defender who has played in a World Cup semi-final, Champions League quarter-final and, at 28, should be at his peak. There should be clubs around Europe clamouring to rescue him from the depths of the Championship.
His defending against Luton sub Luke Bolton in the build-up to that penalty call was not good. He will be kicking himself pretty hard now – and if only had done that to the winger.
Bolton collected a pass out of defence wide on the right, mid-way inside the Stoke half and with six defenders behind the ball.
He made a beeline for Martins Indi on the left corner of the area and without a challenge being made other than a shoulder barge that was shrugged off, got behind the full-back to the by-line to pull in a low cross.
Stoke should have handled what happened next a lot better but it should have been cut off at source at any time of the game.
STOKE’S PENALTY RECORD
A couple of successful Lee Gregory penalties back in October and November hopefully ended the penalty curse at one end but there’s no sign of a let-up at the other.
Penalty experts like Thomas Sorensen don’t come along very often and no one will or should heap too much blame on Jack Butland for letting one in.
But it is remarkable that the keeper just had almost no luck with spot kicks ever since his brilliant save against Eden Hazard put Stoke into the League Cup quarter-finals back in 2015.
Stoke haven’t saved a penalty in regular time since Sorensen faced down Loic Remy in a 5-1 defeat at Newcastle United on Boxing Day 2013.
The stats experts have analysed the last 35 Butland has faced, including at shoot-outs. There was that save against Hazard and two missed – Emre Can and Jack Harrison both struck the left post.
The other 32 have gone in and Butland has leapt the wrong way 26 times.
Most would back Butland to save a free shot from 12 yards, or at least get near it, in open play.
So come on Jack, find a new pair of lucky pants.