Lou Macari: Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters show courage in the line of fire from Stoke City fans
I'M TOLD Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters are not the two most popular players among Stoke fans right now.
But credit where credit is due, both deserve a pat on the back from even their biggest critics after events at Newcastle.
When you're on a bad trot like Stoke, you certainly need the kind of character both players showed in their own way on Sunday.
Don't forget, these are two players who suffered the nasty experience of having some of their own supporters cheering when they were subbed during Stoke's home defeat to West Ham the week before.
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But at Newcastle, there was Walters not only winning a penalty, but then deciding he was the one to take it.
That's no easy decision when you know fans are on your case, and you've missed your last two spot-kicks.
Fair play to him then for stepping up to the plate and burying his penalty so emphatically.
If only he'd hit the ball as low, as hard and right into the corner when he missed that one at Fulham a fortnight earlier.
Whelan had a bit of a stinker when he played that reckless ball back towards his own box and ended up conceding the free-kick from which Newcastle equalised.
But at least he had the courage to seek out the Press to personally apologise to fans straight after the game.
Now that sort of thing wasn't unusual 10 or 15 years ago, but nowadays you don't often find players publicly owning up to their mistakes.
Don't they realise they get a lot more respect from doing that?
Of course, sometimes they are not allowed to have their say by the battery of press officers attached to most clubs these days.
Far from being the purveyors of information, these guys more often than not act like minders to prevent playerstalking.
Football is a game of passion, so let a player come out and explain himself ... and sometimes apologise to fans, just like Whelan did.
After all, it is the supporters who pay good money to follow their team, and they would much rather listen or read comments from their players than those of an old pro like me.
Whelan did make a bad mistake, but the fact he was keen to "man-up" to it so soon after the game should give everyone hope that there's enough character in the Stoke dressing room to turn results around sooner rather than later.
Fans are certainly getting uptight about results and performances, but one thing they needn't worry about is relegation.
Stoke might need as few as four points, possibly five, to be mathematically safe at the end of the day.
And I just can't see any way they won't get those from their five remaining home games and the four away from the Brit.
In at least one of those home games – and probably against West Brom, Villa or Norwich rather than Man United or Spurs – they will play badly and pick up a win. That's football.
I still see it being three from the bottom five of QPR, Reading, Wigan, Villa and Southampton to go down.
QPR have made it interesting and given themselves a chance with back-to-back wins over the past couple of weeks, but they are still joint bottom and weren't too convincing in those two victories. I still think it's a long old haul for Harry Redknapp and his players.
PLENTY of people in this country will be drawing dark conclusions about the strength of the Premier League if and when Arsenal get knocked out of the Champions' League tomorrow night.
That will mean no Premier League club in the quarter-finals for the first time since the 1990s.
Some will say, "Hang on, didn't Chelsea win the tournament this time last year".
Well that's true, and they deserve all the praise going, but you still have to pinch yourself to work out how they got past Barcelona in the semis and Bayern Munich (in Munich) in the final.
Whatever conclusions we do draw about the state of our game, I think the truer test will come in next year's World Cup finals.
That's when the home countries – assuming any make it – will have to stand on their own two feet and not lean on foreign players, like clubs can in the Champions' League.
I really do worry that too many people still have their head in the sand about how weak we have become at international level.
After England beat a team of Brazilian teletubbies in a friendly last month, I'm squirming when I hear people say the likes of Gary Cahill and Jack Wilshere can lead their country into a brave new world.
We are going backwards in Britain and I shudder to think how some will handle that fact when we fall short in qualifying and the finals.