Tony Pulis, the Stoke City manager, called for discussions between clubs and referees yesterday, after Rory Delap was sent off for a challenge that divided opinion between the managers and the match officials.
Mike Jones, the referee, showed no sign of reaching for a card of any colour when Delap appeared to win the ball in a one-footed challenge with David Hunt, the Crawley right-back, until Lee Probert, the fourth official, indicated that he considered the tackle worthy of a red for "excessive force".
"Professional people and referees are so far apart sometimes in what they see as fair or reckless challenges," Pulis said. "We've had a fourth official, Lee Probert, today who has got Rory Delap sent off. But he's refereed a game, Liverpool v Newcastle [on 30 December], and not even booked a player for what was the worst challenge in the Premier League this year – for [Yohan] Cabaye's challenge on [Jay] Spearing. Lee was only five yards away."
Pulis has already been fined £10,000 for criticism of Probert this season over an alleged failure to send off Jamie Carragher in a match between Stoke and Liverpool in the Carling Cup, but he insisted he had no agenda.
"I am not here to slaughter referees," he said. "I'm trying to be constructive and say we have to get together and talk about incidents. I am just saying there is a problem.
"There are rules and regulations in place but what we have to make sure is that people understand them, both professionally and in respect to the referees. We do it as a football club. We phone [the referees chief] Mike Riley up, we send DVDs off to him all the time in respect of certain things that have happened during games and ask him his opinion. It is too great a gap and if we can get together, let's do it."
Yet Steve Evans, the Crawley manager, understood the decision. "My first impression was a red by today's standards," he said. "If your leg is straight and off the ground, you are going to go. Hunt has a four-inch gash on the inside of his ankle, which says everything. I don't think Delap means to tackle like that but the reality is that if you show your studs and you're off the ground, you're in trouble."
Evans felt his side, too, had been harshly treated, first by the award of the penalty from which Stoke took the lead shortly before half-time, when Ryan Shawcross fell under a challenge by Kyle McFadzean. He also said that Shawcross had handled a late effort by Sanchez Watt.
"On replays it's clear it's not a penalty," Evans said. "There is no contact. In the second half, [Tyrone] Barnett has been battered as he goes up for a header, and that's a penalty. And is there any excuse for missing Shawcross's handball on the line? There are nine minutes left on the clock. I can only assume someone has gone across his vision, because he is normally very good but he has had a bad second half."
The incidents overshadowed Stoke's third venture into the FA Cup sixth round in as many seasons and a stubborn display in a tie that could have caused them embarrassment. Crawley, who gave Manchester United a scare at this stage last year before going down 1-0 at Old Trafford, had lost only one of their previous 12 matches at Broadfield Stadium, a ground that is trim but still has a non-League feel and bears little resemblance to the Mestalla, where Stoke play the second leg of their Europa League tie against Valencia on Thursday.
Crawley forced a series of early corners, from the third of which Peter Crouch headed against his own crossbar. They even had a long-throw expert in Hunt, although Stoke were not falling for their own trick.
However, the dismissal of Delap seemed to take the sting out of Crawley's attacks rather than encouraging the League Two side. They had been restricted to long-range efforts from McFadzean by the time Jon Walters nodded on a free kick by Glenn Whelan and Shawcross's tumble was judged worthy of a penalty. Walters converted convincingly.
Another free-kick from Whelan seven minutes into the second half was headed home at the far post by Crouch and, after that, Stoke looked safe. Crawley forced them to defend, but although they played some good stuff in front of the Stoke back four, they were unable to trouble goalkeeper Asmir Begovic until Watt's late overhead kick was blocked by Shawcross.
"We are proud of the players, proud of the town, of everyone at the club," Evans said. "It's a little hard to take with all the decisions that went against us."
Crawley: GILMARTIN 6/10; HUNT 7; DAVIS 7; MILLS 6; HOWELL 7; SIMPSON 6; BULMAN 6; McFADZEAN 7; TORRES 6; BARNETT 5; WATT 7
Stoke: BEGOVIC 6; COLLINS 6; UPSON 7; SHAWCROSS 7; SHOTTON 6; DELAP 4; WHELAN 7; WHITEHEAD 7; JEROME 5; CROUCH 6; WALTERS 7
Substitutes: Crawley Town Neilson 7 (Hunt, 49). Stoke City Wilkinson (Jerome, 84).
Booked: Crawley Davis. Stoke Shotton, Jerome.
Sent off: Stoke Delap (17).
Man of the match Walters.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Crawley 52% Stoke 48%.
Attempts on target: Crawley 8 Stoke 2.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
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