Mark Holmes defends Tony Pulis' decision not to take a full squad to Spain but has harsh words for Mark Hughes and Alex McLeish among others.
Last week, I defended Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas, but this week I'm rather less complimentary about Mark Hughes and Alex McLeish. I start, however, by assessing Tony Pulis' decision to take a weakened Stoke squad to Valencia.
Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Stokies
Regular readers will know I'm not afraid to criticise Tony Pulis. Earlier this month, I moaned that his lack of adventure was starting to grate so you could be forgiven for thinking I'm angry about the squad he took to Valencia.
However, while I was not exactly jumping for joy when I heard the likes of Peter Crouch, Matthew Etherington and Ryan Shawcross had been left at home, I can't possibly hold it against Pulis.
After all, there is a time and a place to moan about your team and it's not on the stairs out of the Mestalla, as I gently reminded one irate Stokie on Thursday evening.
Our critics warned we'd never get to the group stage, never mind get out of it, so there's no way I will criticise Pulis after a defeat to the third-best team in Spain.
What's more, those who have criticised his selection in Valencia have skimmed over the fact that our first-choice team was comprehensively outplayed at the Britannia, whereas our so-called reserve team was unfortunate to lose on Thursday night. They have also skimmed over the fact that the likes of Cameron Jerome, Ricardo Fuller and Wilson Palacios, all of whom started at the Mestalla, are players that many fans have been urging Pulis to give more action to.
Also, it's disingenuous to suggest, as some media sources have done, that this was the first time we had played a weakened team in Europe. In fact, prior to the Valencia game, the least amount of changes Pulis had made for a Europa League game was eight.
He has taken the competition seriously but he's also quite rightly prioritised the Premier League right the way through the season and I can fully understand his decision to do so again ahead of Sunday's crucial game against Swansea.
We'll never know whether Stoke's first-choice XI would have won in Valencia but I'll look back with great pride at our performance at the Mestalla and in Europe as a whole. The whole Europa League campaign has been one big 'pinch yourself' moment (I made it to three of the away games) so excuse me if I'm not too critical of the man who got us there.
Bale 'dive' the latest in a long line
When I was first asked to write my own weekly blog, one of the things I most wanted to highlight was this perception that players are entitled to go down when they feel contact.
I mentioned it in my very first Monday Moan way back in October and have also highlighted instances where players are actually punished for trying to stay on their feet.
Gareth Bale is the latest player to take advantage of the rules and it is the rules themselves rather than the players that I take umbrage with.
To make matters worse, I regularly hear pundits saying such and such a player was 'entitled' to go down following contact. It's ludicrous. Players should attempt to stay on their feet at all times and referees should punish those that go down when they could stay up. If a player attempts to stay up in the box but is clearly knocked off his stride by a touch and does not claim an advantage, then a penalty should be given.
It couldn't be more simple in my eyes, but the likes of Bale will continue to take advantage of the rules until someone with a bit of sense sorts them out.
Horrible Hughes / Boring, Boring McLeish
With Steve Bruce still out of work (count your lucky blessings, Wolves fans), it's only fair that I direct my ire at the two other Premier League managers I can't stand!
The first one is Mark Hughes, who was involved in yet another touchline altercation on Saturday, this time with Martin Jol. Now both managers played down the incident, but it's fair to say there is a bit of a theme starting to develop with the now-QPR boss. Class isn't a word I'd use to describe him, let's put it like that.
I'd also love to hear Danny Murphy's thoughts on the amount of red cards Rangers are picking up under his old gaffer. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of seeing Hughes sending out his players 'too pumped up'. He was in charge of the dirtiest Blackburn side Lancashire has ever seen and is at it again in west London. What a guy!
Talking of managers that irritate me, can anyone blame the Aston Villa fans for the chants they directed at Alex McLeish on Saturday? I've mentioned before that I think he's extremely lucky not to get more negative press and it continues to astound me that more neutrals cannot understand why the Villa faithful is so annoyed by having him in charge.
It has little to do with his Birmingham connection but everything to do with the dour, avoid-defeat-at-all-costs approach he takes to every game. He has described the Villa job as one of the toughest jobs in the Premier League, but there's plenty of managers that would kill for some of the young players McLeish has at his disposal and it must be soul-destroying for the club's supporters to see them playing such dire football.
Theo Walcott is not a great footballer. We all know that. But did the Arsenal fans really believe it was a good idea to boo him during the first half of the north London derby against Tottenham on Sunday?
Emmanuel Eboue will vouch that they've got form for it, and I just can't understand what must go through a fan's head to want to jeer one of his own players.
That must be the definition of counter-productivity and it's just a good job Arsene Wenger didn't give into the fans' wishes, otherwise we might not be talking about a terrific Arsenal win today.
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