22 July 2024

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Referee James Bell proved a unifying figure as injury-battered Stoke City fell to a home defeat to Southampton.

Stoke, who have received a handful of apologies already from the EFL this season for penalties not awarded, can expect at least one possibly two more for fouls on Mehdi Leris and particularly Nathan Lowe that were not given by rookie official Bell. That was after he had given Southampton a free-kick to take the lead late in the first half. Josh Laurent, albeit rather dozily, pulled back Stuart Armstrong. Southampton players tried to disrupt the wall – then watched as Armstrong dispatched his shot over everyone and into the top left corner, beyond a dive from Mark Travers.

Stoke supporters had it in for Bell at that point, not helped when he only added one minute of added time in a season when the figure has usually been at least four times that. To rub it in, he blew up early to stop Stoke taking a corner – and in the meantime he had booked both Ki-Jana Hoever and, particularly harshly, Ben Pearson for slide tackles on the half-way line.

Corners had perhaps been Stoke’s best chance in the first half, with jittery keeper Gavin Bazunu looking not enjoying Daniel Johnson’s deliveries under the crossbar.

There was a smattering of half-chances in open play, with Lowe – making his full debut – heading on target after a neat flick from Sead Haksabanovic to help on a cross from Hoever. Kyle Walker-Peters had to dash across to tackle Lowe after good work from Leris while Hoever slung in a series of crosses after getting to the by-line.

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