OK, it’s the morning after (the afternoon actually but it wasn’t an early start and my French partner Suzanne, who attended yesterday, needs her cups of tea and room service). Was the choice of word I used after the game to describe Leeds over the top? Perhaps. But I’m getting sick of seeing games heavily influenced/decided by a combination of various forms of cheating and an inability on the part of the officials to deal with them. I may have felt annoyed (and disappointed) after our defeat, but how would I feel if I was a West Brom fan going home having seen what would have been a famous victory denied by a player cheating and a ref buying it (and then to have to listen to a manager try to defend the indefensible)?
I did watch the Football League show highlights to see if they would shed any light on the major incidents. Aside from strengthening my view that there penalty was a poor decision by the ref (adding to the injustice after he’d not given us one in the first half for what seemed to me to be a clear foul) they didn’t as just the goals were shown. But I did catch QPR equalising against Reading courtesy of a free kick curled into the net through the edge of a wall that had been separated by a blatant – and clearly pre-conceived and practised - shove by a QPR player.
Leeds’ players tactics involved using the poor conditions to apply pressure on a weak referee, with collective moaning and complaining over each decision given (or not given), some cynical fouls (which went unpunished by the ref in terms of cards), an effort to persuade the ref that Morrison’s challenge was dangerous (which included the obligatory rolling around in agony), a judicious use of feigned injuries to disrupt the game at times (coupled with Kenny’s time-wasting, for which he was warned at least three times before finally being yellow-carded), and then that tumble in the box. My annoyance was probably compounded by the feeling left from our previous home game, against Wigan. In that game, any time we were building up a head of steam one of their players would go to ground and prompt a stoppage to give them time to regroup.
The onus has to be on the match officials if we want to try to cut down the use of ‘professional’ tactics. When is the game going to embrace the technology available to assist the officials, who obviously (I feel) face a task that is beyond them? As things stand we have three officials on the pitch trying to make instant judgements and every Saturday/Sunday evening the pondering on TV/radio on a series of decisions they make which decide games, some obviously wrong, some questionable.
As things stand, we have a game in which almost every corner/set piece could result in two or three penalty offences plus a similar number of fouls by the attacking side, an apparent acceptance (encouraged by some pundits) that any contact in the box entitles a player to dive (and when a player opts to fall down when he doesn’t have to is diving), and a perhaps lesser offence whereby any defender in trouble facing the wrong way with a forward at his back tumbles over for the inevitable free kick (something which Jorge Costa was a past master at). I honestly don’t understand this ‘there was contact …’ argument. Why should the penalty area be any different from the rest of the pitch and if that argument is extended you have just made football a non-contact sport.
Personally I’d be in favour of additional officials on the pitch (either a ref for each half of the pitch or four linesmen), or acceptance of the use of video technology from the stands. I’d welcome retrospective action (match bans etc) where there is clear evidence of players having cheated (yes, of course it’s a grey area open to interpretation), even if this has no impact on the match result and even if it means acknowledging that the officials missed something/made mistakes. I’d also favour referees, as in rugby union, being able to signal an advantage and allow play to continue, to come back for the offence if there is no positive outcome. Perhaps, just perhaps, we would have less diving in the box if players were aware that they could stay on their feet and get an effort on goal and still get the penalty awarded if no goal results.
In criticising Leeds I’m not suggesting we are somehow holier than thou. In a previous game (Millwall I think) Sordell engineered a dive just inside the box that even us Addicks couldn’t bring ourselves to back. I’m also aware that other Addicks would support the team being more ‘professional’ (ie sneaky) sometimes. But on balance I think a side that adopts, deliberately, a cynical approach also loses something. You can’t switch the cynicism on and off and I do think it works against team spirit, character and resolve, qualities that shine through when the chips are down. I hope that’s not just wishful thinking.
As for the game, I don’t think I glossed over the fact that the result was ultimately decided by our crime when having levelled for a second time (would have given Church an extra mark in the ratings if I’d been fully aware of his contribution to our second) we gave away a soft third within a few minutes. Perhaps Hamer went out with the approach (even instructions?) to be wary of coming off his line for balls in the air, given the conditions; but he really had to claim the ball before it dropped to their guy (yes, the one who scored all the goals). It was a costly error – and from his reaction I think he knew it. So be it, every keeper makes mistakes. Let’s just work on the communication between keeper and defenders.
We move on, as I must, as there’s another bottle of red to open and a rabbit to be hacked up and cooked if Suzanne is to be kept content.