Mark Hughes accused Diego Costa of employing “dark arts” that detracted from his ability as a centre-forward.
The Stoke manager laughed off suggestions that his team had deliberately targeted the Chelsea centre-forward during their 2-1 win in the Potteries, a game in which Costa spent much of the first half arguing with officials, tangling with Stoke defenders and running the risk of being shown a second yellow card.
“We didn’t target Costa, he targeted our players if anything,” said Hughes. “I played in that position for many years and you have to react better than that. He is an outstanding striker, you can still have that edge, you can still look after yourself but that kind of behaviour, going over too easily and staying down when he wasn’t hurt, doesn’t help.
“He draws fouls and tries to make the most of contact when they are not fouls. He is adept at the dark arts and everyone in football recognises that.”
The Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, whose side is now 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with 10 matches to play, said he thought Stoke had deliberately targeted Costa in order to draw a reaction. Conte, however, thought that was a perfectly legitimate tactic.
“I think it is normal to try to make a player angry and get him to react,” he said. “But Diego is showing himself to be a great player. I know that in previous seasons he has received a yellow card early and reacted badly but this season he has shown a great commitment and to play for the team and not himself. These are the players I want.”
Costa was far more restrained after the interval and Phil Bardsley, one of the Stoke defenders who had appeared to target the striker, was dismissed for a second bookable offence in stoppage time.
For Conte, who believes Chelsea require a further 21 points from their final 1o matches to secure their sixth title, this was an especially pleasing victory achieved without Eden Hazard, who suffered a calf strain in training.
For the Chelsea captain, Gary Cahill, his winner, three minutes from time, wiped out the push on Jonathan Walters that had given away the penalty for Stoke’s equaliser. “If you make a mistake in some way, then you want to put it right,” he said afterwards. “We have done it time and time again and this game went exactly as we expected.
“It was tough, they wanted to frustrate us and we didn’t try to get sucked too much into the battle because it wouldn’t have suited us. We won and wins are all that matter at this stage of the season.”