If there is a special section of Hell reserved for football fans, I can only assume that eternal purgatory involves having to watch endless videos of Stoke City while listening to incessant appeals for free-kicks from their players and manager.

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As an exercise in anti-football, Saturday’s game was enough to make most people want to stick knitting needles in their eyes, but the fact is that Stoke’s approach gets results and has made them a fixture in the Premiership.

Whether we like it or not, their incessant aerial bombardment was effective, aided by a referee who clearly hadn’t got a clue what was happening in the many grappling episodes, but generally felt that the best option was to appease the home crowd.

Despite some solid defensive performances City never really got a foothold in the game as an attacking side and ultimately can have no real complaints about the result.

However, it’s important to put things into perspective and remember how many of the top six sides have struggled against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium in recent years. This term alone they have beaten Liverpool and Spurs and drawn with Chelsea and Manchester United.

Having said that, if City are to continue to build and to establish themselves in the upper echelons of the Premiership in the future it’s the sort of place where they will need to find a way of producing positive results.

Almost inevitably, the fact that City have now lost three consecutive games has encouraged some people to start talking about a slump, although that in itself says something about how high our expectations have risen in the course of the season.

While it was disappointing that City produced such a low-key performance after the heroics against United I fully expect normal service to be resumed against Wigan, and at least we can look forward to two sides actually trying to play football on Sunday.

However, despite the very different ways in which their teams play the game, Paul Lambert and Tony Pulis have a great deal in common.

Both are passionate managers who paid their dues in the lower divisions and have now steered big clubs who had lost their way back to the Premiership.

What’s more, both are absolutely clear on what they expect from their sides and command the unquestioning respect of players who would run through brick walls for them.

One other significant thing that they have in common is that they are backed by their clubs and left to get on with their jobs, something that has become a talking point this week.

First of all there was the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas amid rumours of Roman Abramovich’s interference at the training ground.

However, that was nowhere near as shocking as Sunday’s behind the scenes documentary about the pre-Premiership era at QPR which highlighted Flavio Briatore’s total contempt for both their fans and their ever-changing managers.

The fact is that many of the new breed of owners can’t seem to resist the temptation to interfere in footballing matters. While to some extent it’s understandable that they should want to protect their investment, they are effectively amateurs gainsaying people who have spent most of their lives in professional football. It is, however, the perfect illustration of power without responsibility, because I don’t recall the likes of Abramovich or Briatore ever accepting even the smallest share of responsibility when things went wrong.

It’s always the manager who carries the can in these situations, and you can see why Brendan Rodgers came up with the classic quote “I’m trying to build my career, not destroy it” when linked with the Chelsea post.

It’s certainly food for thought for any manager when the big clubs come calling.


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