Fabian Delph believes he is the victim of "soft" refereeing after he became the first Premier League player to collect 10 domestic bookings this season, but the Aston Villa midfielder also accepts that he needs to curb his competitive streak to avoid picking up a reputation as a persistent offender.
Delph's yellow card for handball in stoppage time in Monday night's 1-0 home defeat against Manchester City means he will now serve a two-match suspension, ruling him out of the crucial relegation contests against Reading on Saturday and Queens Park Rangers the following weekend.
Although Delph's latest offence was nothing to do with over-zealous tackling, the former Leeds United player is never shy when it comes to making a challenge. The majority of his bookings this season have been for fouls, which is an area of his game he has tried to address after overstepping the mark too often in the past, in particular during his time at Elland Road, when he picked up 13 cautions in his first full season. At the age of 21 and with little more than 100 career appearances behind him, Delph has picked up 32 yellow cards.
"It's a huge blow to miss [the Reading and QPR matches]. I am disappointed," Delph said. "I don't think it was a yellow card [against City]. I am not a cheat and I didn't mean to handle the ball. It's my 10th booking, I think I deserve three. I am not a malicious player. I've had a lot of injuries myself so I would never go to try and injure a player. I think I have won the ball in all of the yellow cards I've received this season.
"The gaffer loves that competitive side in all of his players and I think I make fair challenges. I can mistime some of them. I am only human. The game has changed and obviously I've got to change."
Delph admitted, though, that people will draw their own conclusions about a player whose yellow card tally has reached double figures in 24 appearances. "Yes, it does look bad. But the way I like to play the game, I like to be competitive and there are a lot of players who play that way," he said. "It is a dying breed now. Football is a lot more technical and a bit more sensible. Refs have got a bit soft and it's something I'll look to curb.
"No one is allowed to kick anyone these days. I was probably worse when I was at Leeds. It's something I'll look at, and something I have looked at before. I don't think I make as many 'guess' challenges as I have done in the past. I pick and choose when I go to ground now. You are playing against world-class players and you can get the ball popped around you. I want to stay competitive but I will try to curb it and hopefully not get booked or cut them down."
Asked whether he was in danger of becoming a "marked man" with referees, Delph said: "Possibly. It's something I have thought about. I'm not daft, I do have a think about stuff that I need to work on. Not just tackling, every area of my game. There's lots of areas I need to improve. It's not something I am going to write in capital letters and focus on that because if I do that, then other areas of my game will suffer. I will always compete and try to minimise the yellow cards a bit.
"I have got to look at myself and I have let myself down. There are midfielders in the team who can step in and do a job, if not do a better job. I am sure the team won't miss me too much."