Stoke boss Tony Pulis felt Valencia should have been reduced to 10 men in their Europa League clash last night after Tino Costa twice escaped punishment for tackles on Dean Whitehead.
The Spaniards came away from the first leg of their last-32 tie at the Britannia Stadium with a 1-0 victory thanks to Mehmet Topal’s 30-yard thunderbolt in the 36th minute.
But it was the challenges by Costa, in particular one near the end of the game where the Argentinian seemed to go over the top of the ball and catch Whitehead on the shin, that exercised Pulis after the game.
Referee Peter Rasmussen did not even give a free-kick and instead Whitehead was subsequently booked for his protests after taking out his shinpad to show the damage to the official.
Pulis believes his club have been harshly dealt with by referees in their last three games, with Robert Huth shown a red card against Sunderland but Fulham’s Pavel Pobgrebnyak and Costa escaping without punishment.
“Deano’s got a hell of a gash on his leg from two challenges by Costa, very poor challenges, and again we’re on the wrong end of decisions. They could easily have been red cards.
“The disappointing thing is, a bit like Saturday at Fulham, the referee’s ever so close and sees both incidents. For all what they say about us, our lads work hard and have a go, they’re very honest lads and those were poor challenges. The lads were upset.”
Whitehead felt lucky to have avoided a more serious injury, telling ESPN: “It was studs-up and he could have broken my leg. If I hadn’t had my shinpad on it would have broken my leg.”
While the scoreline indicated there was little to separate the teams, Valencia were certainly a class above and could have had more than Topal’s strike to take back to the Mestalla next week.
Unai Emery’s side were playing in their 100th game in the Europa League and UEFA Cup compared to Stoke’s 15th and Pulis was proud of the display his team put in.
He said: “We needed a break, we needed to score first and that would have given everybody a lift and kept us going. We had some good opportunities in the first quarter of an hour and it just didn’t break for us then they scored a wonder goal.
“It’s disappointing because Rory (Delap) or (Marc) Wilson could have got out to the ball a bit quicker but it’s a fantastic strike, a goal worthy of winning any game.
“They’ve got some great quality, they’re a Champions League side so for us to give them the game we have, I think we’ve done smashing.”