Unlike the Premiership, the Coca-Cola Championship is a league of surprises, not the least of which is the presence at the quarter-way stage of Queen's Park Rangers in the top three, only five months after celebrating promotion.
A goal by their captain, Kevin Gallen, midway through the second half enabled Rangers to complete a sixth straight victory, the first time in more than 20 years that they have recorded such a sequence. But it was a win overshadowed by the red card shown to the Stoke defender Gerry Taggart after 38 minutes.
The incident brought an accusation of cheating from Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, against Rangers' midfielder Marc Bircham, who he claimed had duped the referee, Eddie Evans, into sending off Taggart by over-reacting to a push.
"I've watched the video and seen what has happened," Pulis said. "Bircham has tried to pull the ball off Gerry to take a free kick and Gerry has pushed him away, but Bircham has gone down as if he has been hit with a sledgehammer.
"We have a problem in the game where some players do their damnedest to get people sent off and I think it is something that the Professional Footballers' Association should be looking at."
Stoke's players had been upset earlier when Evans failed to award a penalty after defender George Santos had knocked over the Stoke striker Ade Akinbiyi, and a bad- tempered undercurrent persisted throughout. A bottle landed close to a linesman shortly afterwards and Akinbiyi earned himself a yellow card as late as the 77th minute after shouting in Bircham's face as the Rangers player was substituted.
Pulis said Akinbiyi would be disciplined by the club for that incident, while his Rangers counterpart, Ian Holloway, said he would consider action against Bircham if he had exaggerated what had happened.
"But this is a sad day for me because I thought Tony Pulis and I went back a long way together as friends, but he has called one of my players a cheat and I don't like to hear words like that thrown about," he said.
With Akinbiyi always a threat, and the Rangers goalkeeper, Chris Day, obliged to make fine saves both from him and Karl Henry, Stoke made light of their numerical disadvantage, but Rangers made the decisive breakthrough after 68 minutes when Gallen shot through a crowded penalty from 22 yards to beat Stoke keeper Ed de Goey.Reuse content