Curle wants more protection for striker Smith after criticising ref display in Vale draw

Football or wrestling? Picture: Pete Norton
Football or wrestling? Picture: Pete Norton

Keith Curle has called for referees to give striker Harry Smith better protection after criticising David Rock's failure to do so during Saturday's 1-1 draw with Port Vale.

Smith's battle with the home defence resembled more of a wrestling match at times as Vale attempted to nullify his physical threat by putting two and sometimes three defenders on him.

The 6ft 5in forward, despite often having his shirt pulled, was repeatedly penalised by Rock and subsequently became frustrated, leaving his manager unhappy with how he was treated.

"I didn't think our centre-forward got very well protected," said Curle. "It was more like a WWF wrestling match with all the high balls.

"I spoke to the assistant on the side of the pitch and he said they were both at it. Well, if they're both at it, I'll tell my player it's OK to do it because at the time he was only reacting.

"He was being pulled and pushed first and foremost and then when he whistles he gives a free-kick against him, so I don't think that evened itself out."

Curle did, however, admit that Smith could be smarter in his movement to make it harder for defenders to mark him and negate his aerial presence.

"There are elements within our centre-forward play that we can work on in terms of not being so easy to be marked and to be wrestled and grappled," Curle added.

"Sometimes it's about your starting position and the importance of what we want you to do.

"We don't always want to bring the ball down and be pretty, sometimes keep the ball going, relieve the pressure and get us on the front foot."