There’s no beating around the bush with this one. Last weekend’s penalty award by Michael Oliver has left a severely bitter taste in the mouth of just-about every single Stoke fan.
When IFAB announced back in May that off-the-ball incidents during corners were to be cracked down on, there were few football fans who could have disagreed.
For too long, shirt-holding, pulling, grappling and eye-gouging has been a blight on just about every single corner routine. So much so, it’s become one of those instances that the media pundits have come to accept as ‘part of the game’ – just like diving, or “going down easily” as they like to phrase it nowadays.
Two years ago, Michael Oliver gave a penalty against Ryan Shawcross for shirt-holding during a corner in a fixture against Swansea City at the Britannia Stadium. Barely 20-minutes later, he gave a penalty to Stoke after Victor Moses went down “too easily” after being pulled back when through on goal.
Seven days later, he failed to give a penalty when Manchester United defenders clashed with Chelsea players at Old Trafford in the same competition, during numerous corners. Interestingly, he has failed, since that date at the Britannia, to give a single penalty during a corner routine.
It was highlighted two years ago that if such instances were to be given as penalties consistently, there would be at least ten penalties per game. Yet there haven’t been.
So when Ashley Williams tumbled after running across the path of a forward-running Phil Bardsley, and there legs tangled, it was with a sense of bemusement that Oliver awarded a penalty.
Although Shay Given was unlucky to have conceded a goal from the resulting kick, it still leaves a bitter taste – given that Mike Dean gave a similarly contentious penalty for a foul during a corner against Shawcross last week.
All that fans want is consistency. But when it is clear that it doesn’t exist, then yes it rankles. And yes, it creates debate.
I’ve seen numerous suggestions – some from Stoke fans – that Dean tried to “even things up” with his penalty award against Raheem Sterling in the same fixture two weeks ago. Some even going so-far to say that it was the softest penalty seen.
I’d argue that.
Ashley Williams’ penalty award was the softest seen. There was no foul committed. It was an innocuous collision of legs that neither player could avoid – a result of Williams running across the path of Bardsley.
Had the roles been reversed, and the defender gone down in the box – would a free kick have been awarded in the defender’s favour?
Of course not.
As much holding and fouling takes place by the offensive team at corner routines, than by the defensive team. On at least nine-out-of-ten occasions, such incidents really are six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-another incidents – so why is it only the defensive teams being punished?
The referees have a tough job, don’t get me wrong – but it’s time something was done properly by the FA.
Stop hiding the officials away.
Whether it’s post-match press-conferences, FA-created videos explaining decisions that are uploaded onto Social Media, publication of match reports – something needs to be done to create a less hostile and more open process to allow fans, coaches and players alike a better understanding of the decision-making by the officials in charge of these games.
Going back to that Sterling penalty.
Raheem was facing away from the corner kicker. His sole focus was on the attacker – in this case, Shawcross. At no point during the routine did he look at the ball.
Going even further than this, he shoved his hand into Shawcross’ throat in an attempt to hinder his attempts to get onto the end of the cross.
How is that soft?