TONY PULIS hailed Stoke City's performance at Champions League winners Chelsea their best at one of the top clubs since being promoted to the Premier League . . . even though he was bitterly disappointed to come away empty-handed in the end.
Pulis' side were just five minutes away from claiming at least a point when England defender Ashley Cole popped to snatch a late victory for Chelsea.
But City's manager had nothing but praise for the way his players performed after they pushed Roberto Di Matteo's side all the way at Stamford Bridge.
"That's as well as we've played at one of the top clubs in five seasons in the Premier League and I'm desperately disappointed we've come away with nothing," commented Pulis as he reflected on his side's first Premier League defeat of the campaign.
"We've played the champions of England and the champions of Europe in the past seven days and we've given them both one hell of a game.
"The players can be proud of their efforts in those games, and indeed the others so far as well. We have deserved to get more from them."
He added: "If we'd had one or two breaks, then we would have more to show for our efforts, but if we keep playing like this our luck will change."
Pulis was frustrated that City didn't make more of the opportunities which they created, most notably when Jon Walters hit the bar with a header in the first half and then substitutes Matthew Etherington and Kenwyne Jones went close.
"We've created some excellent chances and Jon would be the first to admit that he should have put that header away," exclaimed City's boss.
"It would have been a different game had we gone in front then because they would have had to have come out and chase the game.
"As it was, I thought they looked very open before they scored, which is why I made the changes to introduce some fresh legs. I really felt that we could win the game at that stage, so I'm really, really disappointed to come away with nothing."
Pulis expressed mixed feelings about the performance of referee Michael Oliver who was at the centre of some controversial incidents.
The official decided to book Chelsea defender David Luiz for a two-footed lunge at Walters when he was in full-flight in injury time, but he waved away a number of appeals for a penalty when Di Matteo's players went down in the box.
"You have got to give the referee credit for the fact that he never gave them a penalty," said Pulis. "The simulation from their players was very poor.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the officials when players fall down in the box when they've not been touched. I find it disgraceful, to be honest.
"There were a number of incidents; Ivanovic's in the first half was laughable, while Oscar, who is a fabulous player, went down a couple of times."
He added: "I'm very, very disappointed, however, that Luiz only got a yellow card when it was clearly a red. I think even the lad himself will admit that.
"A Premier League referee should have seen that and dealt with it properly. How he books him, why he books him, I just don't know."