American Premier League fans welcomed ESPN’s Monday broadcast of Stoke City v Sunderland as we all wait out the HD debacle that is FSC, Comcast, DirecTV and others. The match was broadcast in beautiful HD and I quite enjoyed getting the English feed that included a short halftime analysis with Mick McCarthy and Craig Burley. I really could listen to Mick McCarthy talk all day, I love his no nonsense delivery and he’s sure to have a career as a TV pundit when he’s done in management. The game itself ended 0-0 and was an ugly slug fest with multiple flash points and a match devoid of much creativity.
It was a first half that Burley summed up perfectly as he described the match “like two drunks slugging it out in a back alley, lot’s of punches thrown but none really hitting at the moment“. But what caught my eye was the ridiculous refereeing of the supposed top referee in England and potential World Cup representative Howard Webb. I myself like Webb. I like his strong demeanor, his stern and confident decision making and his ability to make tough decisions when he needs to. But during the first half of Monday’s match, I think he got it all wrong.
On multiple occasions, Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross had more than a handful of Kenwyne Jones’ shirt while in the penalty area and even looked to be physically holding him down as Sunderland attempted a corner. I hope readers remember Portsmouth v Manchester United and the Dubious Penalty where Mike Dean gave a penalty in Pompey’s favor for far less as Nemanja Vidic barely seemed to tug the shirt of Federic Piquionne. Why didn’t Howard Webb award a penalty to Sunderland? Jones was definitely fouled on multiple occassions in the box. For me, Webb got it wrong.
Also in the first half, Stoke City player Dean Whitehead seemed to kick a lump out of Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole. This was blatant violent conduct on the part of Whitehead who was only shown a yellow for the assault. Whitehead and Cattermole continued to jab at each other for the rest of the first half and even had a few words as they headed to the locker room for halftime tea. In my opinion, Webb didn’t do enough to calm both players. Why not bring them together for a quick chat to dispel the bad blood? I’m still shocked that a red card or penalty wasn’t awarded during the game. The match definitely could have benefited from a goal as both teams lack of creativity canceled each other out.
In the 62nd minute, Webb and his linesman again came up short as the two of them seemed to have missed an obvious penalty as Stoke City defender Robert Huth handled in the box. There were moments of quality in the match, but honestly they were few and far between. Tuncay’s back heel in the first half to pick out the streaking Dean Whitehead was worthy of a far better finish.
A point each, Sunderland’s first of 2010 and enough for Stoke City to stay two points and one place above the struggling Sunderland. Ultimately the refereeing of the match was as frustrating as the play on the field.