The Offside Rule’s Tom Bennett casts his eye over the refereeing performances of the weekend, and discusses the ongoing and increasing trend for managers to pin all blame – justified or not – on the men in the middle.
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Mourinho is taught a penalty lesson
Game: Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa
Ref: Roger East
The FA clearly think that Jose Mourinho is the prime (and sometimes sole) offender when it comes to putting pressure on referees. That is not the case. However, he is becoming increasingly irritating with his habit of using referees and their decisions to distract attention away from his own managerial failings.
‘Refs are “afraid” to give penalties for Chelsea’ was the latest claim from Mourinho; but on the evidence of the Blues’ game against Aston Villa on Saturday, it is not that hard to see why officials may think twice before awarding a spot-kick to Mourinho’s side. Chelsea cheat and manipulate referees throughout their matches, showcased perfectly by two poorly executed and embarrassing dives inside the penalty area from Diego Costa on Saturday. Referee Roger East was right on both occasions to wave the appeals away, but we won’t have to wait long before there’s more talk of establishment conspiracies and refereeing howlers from Mourinho to heap even more pressure on the beleaguered officials.
Grade: A. East let the game flow well, got the key decisions right, and never allowed tempers to boil over in a game where there was plenty at stake.
Gayle “spoils the occasion”
Game: Crystal Palace 1-3 West Ham
Ref: Mark Clattenburg
Alan Pardew perfectly demonstrated the culture of criticising officials after his side’s 3-1 defeat at home to West Ham on Saturday (a 3-1 defeat at home to a local rival is the key information there).
Keen to distract from what was a very disappointing result for his team, Pardew came out after the game and accused referee Mark Clattenburg of “spoiling the game”. That’s criticism; maybe not specific enough to get him a ban, but criticism nonetheless – and unfounded criticism at that.
The first big decision Clattenburg got right was to award a penalty to Palace after Dwight Gayle was fouled inside the area. It was a clumsy coming together, hard to assess on first viewing, but the official got it spot on. And he was spot on again when he ordered the retake, after Gayle (again) had encroached into the area before the penalty was taken.
Clattenburg got yet another decision right when he awarded a yellow card to Gayle (again) for a nasty, lunging tackle of the sort that should receive a yellow card every single time. “I got the ball,” shouted Gayle in disbelief. Barely, was the truth, and it doesn’t really matter if you get a touch on the ball if you then go through the back of an opponent with a potential ankle-breaker.
The only questionable decision from Clattenburg was the second yellow for Gayle, but it was a foul, and it was his second brainless challenge in quick succession, so the referee was well within his rights to show the second card. Gayle had lost his head, so even if the ref had been lenient, it wouldn’t have been long before the red did come out.
Grade: B+. The criticism of Clattenburg was unfair and unjustified.
Pantilimon is let off the hook
Game: West Brom 1-0 Sunderland
Ref: Martin Atkinson
Big Sam Allardyce has not been out of the game for long enough to forget how this works. You’re in charge of a relegation-threatened club, playing a game against a club likely to also finish in the bottom half, and you lose 1-0 thanks to a slightly contentious goal. The solution: rail against the referee for all it’s worth. Pin all of the blame for the loss on his performance and move on to the next ‘must-win’ game. Problem solved.
The big incident came when Costel Pantilimon and Saido Berahino met in mid-air, with the goalkeeper dropping the ball and then failing to get it completely under control as the Baggies forward back-heeled it from his flailing grasp. To call it a ‘blatant foul’ is unfair on Atkinson. ‘Innocuous’ would be a better description. Yet there was probably enough doubt for the goal to be chalked off. Was it an error? Yes. Was it the sole and overriding reason that Sunderland lost the game? No.
Big Sam was fired up even further when his side didn’t get a penalty late on for a challenge inside the box that couldn’t have been less of a penalty if it had tried. And in fact, it was the Black Cats who were fortunate to escape giving away a spot-kick when Younes Kaboul turned his back and blocked a header with the elbow of his raised arm. It would have been a harsh call on the defender… but you can bet your bottom dollar that if the Baggies had lost, then Pulis would have brought it up. It’s an epidemic.
Grade: C. Atkinson will rue giving Allardyce anything to moan about, but it wasn’t a howler and he will learn from the incident.
Beyond the point of no return
The Premier League Weekend
Accused: English football, the players, fans and managers
English football has a problem with referees. The fans have a problem with them. The pundits have a problem with them. And, above all, the managers have a problem with them.
A culture of criticism and deflection has pervaded the game like a virus, yet so normalised has it become that few seem to notice, let alone care.
That referees make mistakes – and occasionally very bad mistakes – is undeniable. But that is the inevitable result of human error. The Premier League’s officials are the best in their field: men and women who have trained for years to get to a level where they can ply their trade at the highest level… and submit themselves to abuse from all and sundry for 90 minutes at least once a week.
The more research that I have done for these ongoing Offside Rule ref reviews and the more attention I have given to the treatment of officials, the more aware I have become of the extent of the problem.
And this weekend was the nadir.
Or at least it should have been.
In reality, the criticism of officials in the build-up to the weekend, during the weekend, and since the weekend has passed virtually unnoticed.
GRADE: U. It is hard to see football in this country ever getting back to a point where officials are shown the respect that they deserve. Administrators are as much to blame as anybody, but managers are the most visibly responsible: week, after week, after week…
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Follow Tom Bennett at @tommbennett