Stoke will give Matthew Etherington every chance of making FA Cup final

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The Independent Online

Stoke boss Tony Pulis will give Matthew Etherington every chance to prove his fitness for the FA Cup final against Manchester City in two weeks' time.

The influential winger, who was among the scorers in Stoke's 5-0 semi-final victory over Bolton, tore a hamstring half an hour into Tuesday's 3-0 win against Wolves.

With so little time before their second trip to Wembley on May 14, Etherington's chances looked slim, but Pulis is certainly not writing him off yet.

The Welshman said: "He's had the scan, he's got a torn hamstring and we'll know better in seven days how much chance he's got. He'll be treated and looked after as best we can.

"We've got to do our damnedest in the next seven days to put him in a position where we give him the best opportunity to play in the cup final. His leg could be hanging off and I wouldn't rule him out."

The injury to Etherington, who was part of the West Ham team beaten in the FA Cup final by Liverpool five years ago, is the latest blow for Pulis after Ricardo Fuller and Danny Higginbotham were ruled out of the City clash.

Pulis added: "We've been very unfortunate losing Higginbotham, Fuller and then Matty picking that injury up. It's going to be a difficult enough game for us anyway, but to lose three very influential players - if Matty doesn't make it - is going to make it doubly difficult."

Higginbotham will miss the start of next season after suffering cruciate ligament damage earlier this month while Fuller underwent an operation yesterday on a ruptured Achilles he sustained during last weekend's draw with Aston Villa.

Pulis said: "Ric's going to be three or four months, which is a massive blow to him and a massive blow to us. He had the operation yesterday and they tell me everything's going fine."

Meanwhile, the Stoke boss labelled Barcelona and Real Madrid a disgrace for the theatrics that marred last night's Champions League semi-final clash.

The Catalonians won the first leg 2-0 in the Bernabeu after a tempestuous game that produced red cards for Madrid defender Pepe, coach Jose Mourinho and Barcelona substitute keeper Jose Pinto.

Referee Wolfgang Stark was surrounded by players on numerous occasions after tackles from both sides and Pulis, whose team have received plenty of criticism for their physical style of play, called for action to try to stamp out play acting.

He said: "The game was a great disappointment. Both teams spent too long trying to get players booked and sent off. They put enormous pressure on the referee and I thought the attitude of the game from both sides was appalling.

"We get criticised in this country for being physically too competitive. You have a look at that game, and they're the two greatest teams in Spain with great players, players you could only dream of having in your team, and the attitude was a disgrace.

"Nobody will talk about it, they'll talk about challenges sometimes and being over competitive but you won't hear them talking about players rolling around like it.

"That German referee was put under so much pressure it was frightening. You're getting fellow professionals trying to con referees to get other fellow professionals sent off.

"Someone has to stand up and say something about it because it's happening in this country as well and it's wrong. It's a competitive game but it's about football. We'll be competitive, but we'll be honest, and there's a difference.

"Last night was tantamount to trying to cheat referees into making bad decisions and that should not happen."

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