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Monday Moan: Only one pen wrong at Brit

Mark Holmes says only one of the two penalties at Stoke was incorrectly awarded - and blasts Liverpool's shambolic defensive display at QPR.

Controversy rules at Britannia

It may not have been everyone's pick for a 'Super Sunday' game, but Stoke's 2-1 win over Swansea certainly provided some controversy.

The second penalty of the game, awarded to Stoke after Victor Moses went down following a slight shirt pull from Angel Rangel, fell well and truly into the 'soft' bracket, but it was run of the mill by Premier League standards.

I have been complaining about it in this column for years, but still referees are giving penalties too easily when players decide to 'make the most' of contact within the 18-yard box.

Some call it clever play, while others say forwards are within their rights to 'make the referee aware' of an infringement. I prefer to call it diving but, as I have written so many times over the years, you cannot blame players for behaving like this while referees continue to hand out penalties so cheaply. Officials simply must be better educated on what does and does not count as genuine impediment.

It may be, of course, that Michael Oliver, a very promising referee, was merely tricked by Moses' dive, judging from his angle that he had been pushed to the floor by Rangel. It is certainly a conceivable theory based on Oliver's position but we will never know while officials continue to be prevented from explaining their decisions after games.

While the second penalty was far from unusual, the first, given to Swansea after Ryan Shawcross grabbed hold of Wilfried Bony, most certainly was.

The grappling that goes on between defenders and attackers waiting for a set-piece delivery has long been the source of frustration for fans, but former Premier League referee Mark Halsey told me before the start of the season, "there is an accepted level that goes on within the penalty area, and all of the players know that".

Stoke boss Mark Hughes seemed to suggest in his post-match interview that clubs had been assured in the summer that the grappling would continue to go unpunished - "I went into meetings with managers at the beginning of the year and referees were talking about it" - and there is little doubt that Oliver has made a rod for his own back - and possibly his colleagues' - by awarding a penalty for such an incident.

Players and fans will be screaming for a spot-kick after every single push, pull or tug next weekend, and forwards will be falling to the floor at every opportunity if they feel penalty kicks are suddenly on the menu.

Some will say such strong refereeing would force defenders to stop grappling, but physical contact is inevitable in these situations. There simply cannot be penalties awarded every time a defender grabs hold of a striker's shirt or gives him a nudge in the back. Games would descent into farces.

However, that does not mean that no penalties can be awarded for wrestling in the area. Sometimes, it may be so blatant and so excessive that a referee is well within his rights to point to the spot.

The way Ryan Shawcross pulled Wilfried Bony to the floor on Sunday was one such incident. This was not an ordinary piece of holding; Shawcross had got himself the wrong side of the Swans forward and wrestled him out of the way to get back into position.

Some may argue that Bony would never have got to the ball anyway, which may well be true, but Shawcross only has himself to blame for poor defending in the first place and then giving Oliver a decision to make just moments after the usual warning about such behaviour.

Not every piece of grappling is a foul, but this one was.

Rodgers must resolve defensive issues

It is much easier to be magnanimous in victory than defeat, but it was still refreshing to see Brendan Rodgers admit QPR did not deserve to be beaten by his Liverpool side at Loftus Road on Sunday.

It was a particularly surprising admission coming from a manager that rarely sways from being wildly positive about his side, but it is a shame the Northern Irishman was not so frank when discussing exactly what was wrong with the Reds' performance.

He told Sky Sports: "We put players on to play a game, which is a technical game. The first half, we didn't pass the ball, we had no rhythm in our game, movement was too slow, no speed in the game."

He said in a separate interview with Spanish newspaper AS that the "natural progress of the team has been halted" by the departure of Luis Suarez.

Both of Rodgers' assertions are correct, but it is what he didn't say that must be worrying for Liverpool's supporters.

The Reds defended atrociously in west London, particularly when it came to dealing with high balls, yet Rodgers' complaints after the game were about a lack of speed and movement from his side going forward.

This, remember, is the team that conceded 50 goals last season, only the eighth least in the Premier League, and would have at least forced the title to be decided on goal difference had they not inexplicably let a three-goal lead slip at Crystal Palace with the trophy still in their sights.

That they signed three new defenders over the summer yet have the joint ninth-worst defensive record in the league so far this season should be of much more concern to Rodgers than it seemingly is.

One of those summer purchases, Dejan Lovren, was dominated so much in the air by Bobby Zamora on Sunday that it was almost embarrassing. Some have tried to put the defensive problems down to Steven Gerrard in the holding midfield role, but the Croatian has been a huge disappointment since signing from Southampton.

Gerrard actually made a positive impact after switching to a deeper position for the second half having played behind the ineffective Mario Balotelli for the opening period, but the skipper could do little to prevent the shambolic defending of Martin Skrtel and Jose Enrique for QPR's first goal, and then Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Simon Mignolet for their second.

Perhaps Rodgers has bought badly, perhaps he is not doing enough defensive work on the training ground or perhaps it is both. Whatever the answer, Liverpool are not going to challenge for the title unless they solve the problem.


Headlines for Liverpool this week

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  • Champions League: Brendan Rodgers says Liverpool cannot focus on Ronaldo

  • Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers insists his side cannot become too focused on stopping Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League this week.

  • UEFA Champions League: Liverpool return excites Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa

  • Alvaro Arbeloa watched from the bench as Real Madrid won La Decima but admits his toughest moment in Europe came as a Liverpool player.

  • Smith back at Liverpool

  • Defender Brad Smith has been recalled from his loan spell at Swindon by parent club Liverpool.

  • Monday Moan: Only one pen wrong at Brit

  • Mark Holmes says only one of the two penalties at Stoke was incorrectly awarded - and blasts Liverpool's shambolic defensive display at QPR.

  • Misfiring Mario key to Liverpool's woes

  • After Liverpool's uninspiring victory over QPR on Sunday, Matt Stanger writes the Reds defence and Mario Balotelli's form are a major concern.

  • Champions League: Real Madrid's Gareth Bale out of Liverpool clash

  • Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Real Madrid’s Champions League clash with Liverpool on Wednesday, according to Sky sources.

  • Regional Rumours in the Press: Khedira staying put

  • Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has ruled out selling Sami Khedira to Chelsea or Arsenal, while Victor Valdes is unlikely to join Liverpool.

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