Mark Hughes admitted some Stoke fans’ unrest at their latest defeat was “understandable” as the pressure mounted on him following a 3-0 loss to West Ham.
The heat has been cranked up on the Potters boss, who heard chants of ‘Hughes out’ and ‘sacked in the morning’ at the bet365 Stadium as his team suffered a fifth defeat in six to a Hammers side who have taken seven points in eight days under David Moyes.
Stoke were only trailing to a contentiously-awarded penalty in the first half before Marko Arnautovic haunted his old club by doubling the lead, and substitute Diafra Sakho added a third to leave Hughes’ men just above the relegation zone.
A week after fans at a train station had vented their anger at Hughes’ squad following a 5-1 thrashing by Tottenham, there was more displeasure among supporters, many of whom had been forced to wait outside the ground because of a delayed kick-off caused by a power outage.
“That’s understandable,” Hughes said of the discontent expressed in the stands late on.
“Up to 75 minutes before the second goal, I thought the fans were absolutely magnificent, they were driving us on, totally behind us.
“Like ourselves on the bench, as soon as the second goal went in it took the wind out of our sails, you get a little bit anxious, a little bit angry then you get a response but for the most part I thought they were great.”
Hughes’ mood was darkened by Mark Noble’s 19th-minute penalty, given by referee Graham Scott despite Manuel Lanzini appearing to dive prior to making contact with a sliding Erik Pieters.
Lanzini could yet be retrospectively punished if a three-man panel deems he successfully conned the official, not that it will be of any benefit to Hughes.
“Whether or not he is or not, it doesn’t help us,” he added.
“He’s clearly dived. He’s a clever player, he’ll draw a foul or some kind of challenge but he wasn’t clipped.
“Referees need to get match-defining decisions correct and he certainly didn’t get that one correct.”
However, Moyes does not fear losing Lanzini to a two-game ban.
“I would call it soft,” the Scot said.
“Manu has ran 70 yards and probably ran his race at the end of it, I think the defender going to ground means the referee has a choice to make. I don’t think there’s any intent regarding a dive. I think he’s riding the tackle more than anything.
“If you take the whole action into consideration, I definitely don’t see it being a dive. I see it being tiredness at the end of it but I don’t see a dive.”
After Noble converted that spot-kick, it was the Arnautovic show in Staffordshire, where he spent four successful seasons prior to forcing through a £25million summer move to West Ham.
The Austrian missed two one-on-ones, hit the crossbar twice, crossed his arms in a West Ham salute and doubled his team’s lead before irritating Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross, Hughes and Stoke supporters, one of whom threw a t-shirt at him, as he was substituted.
“I told him at half-time I was annoyed with him, he should have scored two,” Moyes said.
“I told him if he kept up he’d score in the second half. He probably had three or four chances and should have come away with the matchball.
“He’s beginning to become a really important player for us. I’d still like to get him up to even higher levels but his work-rate has been phenomenal.”