James Lawton: But for the referee, Spurs would have outshone Robots of the Potteries

Can anyone say watching Stoke City on a regular basis has much of an edge on root-canal work?

The Stoke City fashioned with ferocious application by their manager, Tony Pulis, have so many admirable qualities it is not an easy thing to say, but say it one must. Their victory over Tottenham, apart from being almost entirely the result of some of the most egregiously wretched match officiating we are ever likely to see, was a triumph for anti-football.

Indeed, in terms of natural justice, of that warm feeling which comes when you know that the right thing has happened, it wasn't very far from a street mugging.

It was, if we can put aside for a moment the appalling performance of referee Chris Foy, a superbly marshalled version of the dark force, no doubt. Certainly, it was enough to send a surge of pride through the Potteries region which once gave the world the unforgettable magic of the late Sir Stanley Matthews.

You might care to throw in some other commendations.

Certainly, you can praise Pulis's continued ability to present the aristocrats of English football with insuperable problems while operating on the treadmill of Thursday night Europa League football and a sharply inferior budget.

You have to respect a professional duty to make life as difficult as possible for your most formidable opponents. You have to warm to some degree to a team so utterly unfazed by the kind of shortfall in natural-born ability they experienced on Sunday against the likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Emmanuel Adebayor.

You can even go some way with the splendid old pro Dion Dublin when he declares that one of the great virtues of Stoke is their refusal to "complicate things".

Yet can anyone truly say, once they have taken from the equation the old force of tribal loyalty, that watching Stoke City on a regular basis has much of an edge on a session of root-canal work?

Is the special towel sewn into the shirt of Ryan Shotton, the long-throw successor to the legendary ball-hurler Rory Delap, an article that speaks of the spontaneous glory of the world's favourite game or a robot's artefact?

This is not to insult a young player who, when he isn't throwing the ball vast distances at the head of Peter Crouch, displays some impressively well-rounded football gifts. It is more to worry about the point at which a single tactic is not an arrow in your quiver but pretty much the whole shooting match.

Yes, Stoke do have other assets and most conspicuously a relish for the battle which has established them in the Premier League. Also true is the fact that in the first half against Spurs they showed far more appetite and concentration for the job in hand. The trouble was that Tottenham in the end adjusted to the demands of the contest, produced football that was both wonderfully engaging and, by some distance, deserving of the spoils.

That they didn't receive their rewards was a direct result of official incompetence, an example of it which was so relentless it might have served as Exhibit A in the case for overall match supervision that can draw upon the instant TV evidence available to everyone but the referee – one who, in this case, utterly distorted the result of a game which might just affect the outcome of such important matters as the destiny of the League title or a place in the Champions League.

In the circumstances, Spurs' manager Harry Redknapp reacted with impressive restraint. In his half-time readjustments, Redknapp recognised the effectiveness of the Stoke tactics and produced a belated game plan which in normal circumstances would surely have been properly reward.

No doubt many will say that bad stuff happens in football, as elsewhere, and that the obligation is to get on with it. However, what happened at the Britannia Stadium was in some ways a classic test of top-flight English football's ability to render something other than a travesty of anything that passed for justice.

This isn't to whinge on behalf of football's resurrected glamour teams, an outfit Bill Shankly once christened, with a snarl, "the Drury Lane Boys". Some Stoke fans were no doubt inclined to agree with that description after Modric went down for a penalty somewhat theatrically. They booed the brilliant little man relentlessly, but the reality was that it was unquestionably a penalty. Another one was that Spurs had ultimately produced an impressive antidote to the problem of Stoke.

They did it with the football that lifts the heart. They did it with wit and pace and at times quite sumptuous skill. They reminded us why we bother with all the excesses of the game, all the self-promoting hype and the often dreary functionalism produced by players earning more than heart surgeons. It is because we seek out those moments when the game becomes beautiful in its fluent rhythm and explosive possibilities.

Less pleasing for the neutral eye, though Stoke fans could maybe not care less, is the trajectory of a throw rifled into a mass of largely anarchic bodies straining for the crucial flick-on. This, with the help of a palpable handling of the ball by Crouch, gave Stoke the vital momentum against a team who had come with a different set of priorities. It was, yes of course, a formidable pressure but long before the end it had been effectively countered.

This did not, however, cause too much of a dent in the belief that, if the circumstances were maybe a little outrageous, the result was still a triumph for a certain kind of courage. Maybe so but it will never replace the allure of real football.

Defeat may offer Khan a blessing in disguise

Without doubt, Amir Khan's removal, at least temporarily, from the path to a heavily orchestrated super-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jnr or Manny Pacquaio in Washington DC apparently caused a lot more surprise on this side of the Atlantic than in America. Over there, the prevailing opinion is that Khan's conqueror Lamont Peterson carried the fight to his man and effectively enough to warrant a narrow points decision.

Still, as they say, it's an ill wind. Nothing is more depressing in boxing than the machinations which are not so much about the test of a fighter's true calibre but the creation of one huge paynight, however spurious its competitive basis.

Khan certainly has had an honourable career, starting with the Olympic silver won, at the age of 17, in Athens under the shadow of the impressive Cuban champion Mario Kindelan. He has worked under the hugely respected tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach in America. But what he has not been able to do is provide convincing evidence, any more than his compatriot Ricky Hatton, that he could promise anything more than nominal, if lucrative opposition, to the likes of Mayweather and Pacquaio.

The officiating at the weekend was transparently bad. However, the consequences for Khan, in respect of his health and his reputation, if not his and his promoters' pockets, might well have been a curious kind of blessing.

Well done Donald – but there's still a major question mark

There has been a tendency, in this quarter at least, to be rather less than fulsome in praise of the extraordinary consistency of Luke Donald, who has just achieved the unique distinction of topping the money-winning lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

It means the very least that is required is an unqualified salute to an example of head-down, day-by-day, week-by-week, professionalism that has been quite stunning. Even in his moment of triumph, however, he was obligated to deal with the question that stalks all of his victories. When is he going to win a major?

He points out, with more than a hint of weariness, that it takes four days to win a major, a whole year to top the rankings list. Of course, he is right. Unfortunately, he would be wrong to believe that the question will ever fade away.

That can only happen if holding your nerve and talent over four days of a major becomes less than a widely perceived compression of the lifetimes of so many brilliant golfers. It is not likely.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links