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Stoke accuse FA of 'losing the plot' over referees

Stoke City chairman Peter Coates has accused the Football Association of "losing the plot" over its rules on managers commenting on referees. Stoke manager Tony Pulis was warned this week as to his future conduct after praising Howard Webb ahead of his side's FA Cup semi-final with Bolton, which Webb officiated.

Pulis's warning from the FA followed similar reprimands received by Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti of Chelsea this week for the same offence, involving the same referee. Coates was unimpressed with the FA, arguing that, while accusations of bias were unacceptable, there was nothing wrong with fair analysis of referees' performances.

"I am beginning to think people are losing the plot with these things," Coates told The Sentinel newspaper. "We are all for respect for referees and officials, but let's be sensible about it all. Managers should not be allowed to question a referee's integrity, that is always wrong, but a manager should be allowed to say if a referee has made a mistake. We all make mistakes – managers, players, chairmen and officials. What is wrong with saying so?"

The charge against Pulis dates back to April and Stoke's FA Cup semi-final against Bolton, which they won. Webb was the referee, and before the game Pulis praised him. "Howard is a great ref in my book, and certainly as good as there is," said Pulis of the World Cup final official. "We are pleased to have him. What makes him special is that little bit of an aura he has about him."

These comments led to the FA warning Pulis "as to his future conduct". Ferguson and Ancelotti were this week warned for the same offence. Ahead of Manchester United's 2-1 league win over Chelsea on 8 May, Ferguson described Webb as "the best man for the job". "He's definitely the best referee in the country," said Ferguson, "there's no doubt about that. We are getting the best referee and we hope it's our turn for a little bit of luck." Ferguson neither accepted nor denied the charge.

Before the same game, Carlo Ancelotti was similarly complimentary. "Howard Webb is a fantastic referee," said the Italian. "He has experience, he has skills, but this is football and sometimes when things are not good you speak about the bad decisions against you."

The rule against speaking about referees before games was brought in at the start of the 2009-10 season, and clubs were formally reminded of it last October. The FA said that Ferguson's comments constituted a "minor breach, but a breach nevertheless" of the rule, and that future breaches would lead to similar charges.