Case Study: Dowd Issues 2 Cautions in 10 Seconds

Select Group Referee Phil Dowd has certainly had his share of big decisions lately, sending off 5 players in his last 4 matches of the season. (In this referee’s opinion, all of those decisions were spot on).

But an incident in the match between Liverpool and Newcastle United was of particular note.

After Liverpool scored the second of two goals within just a few minutes to overturn a 0-1 deficit, Dowd found himself at the business end of some serious dissent from Newcastle forward Shola Ameobi.

While preparing to kick off after the second goal, Ameobi can be seen shouting and aggressively pointing at Dowd.  Such public displays of dissent must be cautioned, and Dowd obliges with a firm display of the yellow card.

But before restarting play – and for reasons that only he will know – Dowd calls Ameobi back for a chat, and is joined by the Newcastle captain.

Perhaps, Ameobi was flirting with a straight red for foul and abusive language and Dowd wanted to make quite certain that both Ameobi and his captain were aware of his precarious position.

In any case, Dowd hardly got a word in before Ameobi said something that made Dowd reach again for his yellow card – resulting in the send off of Ameobi for a second caution.

Perhaps the accomplished lip readers out there can make out what the parties said, but for the purposes of this post, that is beside the point.

Before I get to the point, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: Phil Dowd is an accomplished, professional referee in one of the best leagues in the world.  If he felt a need to call Ameobi over for an additional chat, I am certain he had good reason to do so.

This is a good reminder for the rest of us that a quick restart can often be the best salve for a wound.  Ameobi accepted his caution and had returned to his position, ready to restart play when Dowd summoned him for a further chat.  One wonders if the second caution who have been necessary had Dowd elected to restart play instead of calling Ameobi over again.

For those of us who referee at more typical levels of play, continuing discussion in this manner is very rarely advisable, and for the reasons that played out on our television screens.

P.S.: Have I ever mentioned how little use I have for Alan Pardew?  How many times will he get away with game disrepute?

Case Study: The Advantage of Advantage

There are some readers of this space who are not referees; apparently, they get something out of these rants and bits of analysis.  So, it is to those readers that I direct the following comment: there’s probably no better feeling for a soccer referee than to recognize an advantage, signal it, and have the team in possession exploit it by scoring a goal.  It isn’t from wanting one team or another to score that this pleasure derives, but rather from a sense that justice has been served.  The team in possession was wronged when they were fouled by the defending team, but we had enough ‘soccer sense” to recognize that calling the foul would extinguish a promising attack.  This can be counter-intutitve, especially for new referees, who instinctively want to recognize fouls quickly so that players know that they are on top of things.

Case Study # 5-2013
Date 29 Jan 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United
Referee/Badge Mike Dean, FIFA
At Issue A textbook use of advantage leads to a goal for NUFC

It is with this background that we examine these screen shots below.  I must say that Referee Mike Dean is having a great year so far, getting the big decisions right and putting on a basic skills clinic for the rest of us.  This is a textbook case of advantage, recognized and properly applied.  Yes, we may quibble about the fact that Dean brings the whistle to his lips once he recognizes the foul – ideally, we don’t do this so we don’t confuse the players by having them stop because they think the whistle is about to blow.  But the more important point is that Dean gets the decision right.  Awarding a foul in this case would have denied Newcastle a goal in a match decided by a one goal margin.

Case Study: Dean Does It Again

Case Study # 19-2013
Date 8 May 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Chelsea 2 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
Referee/Badge Mike Dean, FIFA
At Issue Mike Dean and crew put on (another) refereeing masterclass.

I admit it: I am a Michael Dean fan.  I celebrate the guy’s entire collection.  For my money, it doesn’t get any better than when he plays a good advantage.

Apologies to fans of the movie Office Space for taking liberties with one of the best lines from the cult classic.  But the fact is, Mike Dean and crew have had a fantastic season, capped off by another brilliant display in the Chelsea v Spurs tie at Stamford Bridge.

There were so many good moments from this match, I found it difficult to narrow it down to four.

Incident #1 – The Fourth Official spots a foul

In the eighth minute of the match, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (#17) was making a strong run through the midfield.  He had already played through a foul from Spurs midfielder Scott Parker (for which Dean dutifully indicated advantage), and as he entered the attacking half of the field, played square to Juan Mata (#10).  As soon as he did, he continued his run forward, in anticipation of receiving a quick 1-2 in return.  Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone sensed this danger and stepped in front of Hazard, blocking his run and sending the Chelsea man to the floor.

Referee Dean did not see this as it was in his blind spot as he followed the ball.  However, one of the two referees on the home touch line (more likely 4th official Jon Moss, based on the angle) spotted the infraction and relayed the information to Dean, who turned, realized what had happened and blew for the foul.  Dean then acknowledged the good teamwork of his crew with an appreciatory thumbs-up.

Incident #2 – Another Brilliant Advantage

This play is so brilliantly done by Dean that I had to publish the video instead of just the frames.  I think the video speaks for itself, though I’ll add this it not the first time this season that an advantage played by Dean has led directly to a goal.  Interestingly, you’ll notice in the replay that Dean gives AR2 a thumbs up; my guess is that the AR said something to Dean over the radio about advantage being on.

Incident #3 – Alternative Positioning

In the 60th minute of the match, with Chelsea leading 2-1, Spurs won a free kick in the attacking half, near the corner in front of AR2 John Brooks.  Dean positioned himself as if it were a corner, and has he has done before this season, discarded conventional wisdom and set up on the goal line to get a better view of the action.  Nothing came of the free kick, but Dean’s alternative positioning demonstrates he is willing to take a risk to get a better look.  (I have to acknowledge that this is easier when you have a 4th official and radio communication between referees).

Incident #4 – More Help From the Fourth

In the second half, Chelsea were playing out of their defensive third when one of their backs executed a long switch, from left to right.  This switch left Referee Dean far away from the ball, but very close to the technical areas and 4th official Jon Moss.  Spurs midfielder Gareth Bale was late with a challenge on Chelsea right back Cesar Azpilicueta.  As Dean was at least 40 yards from the action, he depended on Moss for information, which was quickly and correctly provided.  Moss demonstrates proper form by not following the ball, but instead watching the players through the conclusion of contact.  Bale was correctly whistled for a late challenge, but Moss (correctly) determined the foul to be only careless, and therefore no misconduct was involved.

Dean even won praise from the commentary team during the match, with play-by-play announcer John Champion declaring at one point “not much bothers Mike Dean”.  This is exactly why Dean – along with fellow BPL referee Martin Atkinson – is one of my role models at the highest level of the game.  They both exude a calm, quiet demeanor, prefer to stay in the background, but are willing to make difficult decisions when called upon.

Case Study: AR2 Calls For A Penalty. From A Corner.

Case Study # 15-2013
Date 13 Apr 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Arsenal 3 – 1 Norwich City
Referee/Badge Mike Jones, Select Group
At Issue During a corner kick, the Assistant Referee calls for a penalty for a foul in front of goal

Relegation-threatened Norwich City were clinging to a 1-0 lead away at Arsenal in the 83rd minute.  During a corner kick for Arsenal, a tussle in front of the Norwich goal saw Norwich forward Kei Kamara and Arsenal forward Oliver Giroud end up in a heap on the floor.  Referee Mike Jones was content to let play continue, until he clearly got a buzz from the Assistant Referee, who immediately signaled for a penalty (using the unique-to-England mechanic of flag across chest).

At first, Referee Jones appears to be confused by the call.  I’m guessing that he assumed there was an offside flag and so blew the whistle quickly.  But as the decision became apparent, the Norwich City players – and especially the goalkeeper – approached the Assistant Referee, engaging in very verbal and obvious dissent.  To his credit, Referee Jones cautioned the goalkeeper (which had little effect, it must be pointed out), but still looked as if he wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

There are a couple of different talking points to cover here.

First, is there a foul?  My own opinion is that, had I seen what the Assistant Referee saw, I would feel compelled to communicate this to the referee.  It is quite possible that Referee Jones was screened by Kamara himself and couldn’t see the egregious shirt pull executed by the Norwich forward-turned-defender.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the mechanics of how this situation unfolded for the referee crew.  We can only speculate about what Jones’ pre-grame instructions were to his crew, but I think it would be safe to say that, given Jones’ reaction, it didn’t include having the Assistant Referee call for a penalty in this scenario.

What did the AR say to Jones over the radio?  Couldn’t he have said “Mike, I have a serious shirt pull on yellow in front.  Do you want it?”  It doesn’t appear that this happened.

Given that Jones appeared to blow quickly after receiving the beep from the AR, one wonders if he would’ve done well to have a look first.  I strongly suspect that Jones thinks the AR is flagging for offside.

Finally, given that the AR did call for the penalty, and Jones did blow the whistle, could he have done a better job in recovering and selling the call?  Would it have been a better choice to jog over to the AR (Jones walked) and have a quick chat, so that both referee and AR were on the same page?  There’s always the get out of the inadvertent whistle, and while that’s certainly ugly for a professional match, it might have been better sold.

Case Study: Match Management and Broken Noses

In this space, I strive to comment on referees doing the right things: good fundamentals, creative game management and the like. There are times, however, when we can learn from mistakes by referees at the highest level. I don’t undertake this task lightly; the referees I critique in this space (Lee Probert in this case) are far better referees than I shall ever be. Be that as it may, we have the opportunity to learn from the referees we look up to, when they perform well, and when performances are less than stellar.

Case Study # 8-2013
Date 23 Feb 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Fulham 1 – 0 Stoke City
Referee/Badge Lee Probert, FIFA
At Issue A series of questionable decisions leads to a testy match

Such was the case in this fixture, and we’ll review three specific incidents.

Incident #1

In the 15th minute of the match, Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov and Stoke midfielder Stephen Nzonzi contested a ball in the air. Berbatov won the ball, striking Nzonzi in the face in the process. This has widely been reported as an accident, but the frames below tell a different story. The incident left Nzonzi with a broken nose. Probert’s decision: no foul, play on. The fundamental issue to keep in mind here is that we must keep an eye on the space between players.

Incident #2

In the 22nd minute of the match, Nzonzi set out to have his revenge. He struck Fulham striker Bryan Ruiz in the face with an open hand, in full view of Referee Probert. Probert’s decision: foul and caution. Given Nzonzi’s reputation as a fiery competitor, and what he surely perceived as a lack of justice being served, one could almost see this coming. Not only does Nzonzi get off with only a caution, Referee Probert says nothing to him. Perhaps this might have been a good time to slow things down and have a word.

Incident #3

Several other mini dust-ups occurred during the match, but perhaps none as egregious as a strike to the face of Fulham defender Phillipe Senderos by Stoke defender Robert Huth during a corner kick. This incident goes unpunished, assumedly because it was unseen by the referee. The point is that this incident possibly could have been prevented by dealing with the first two incidents.

Everyone has a bad day at the office, including FIFA Referees. What we can learn from this analysis:

  • Players will seek justice on their own if they believe the referee unable/incapable of administering it
  • Not dealing with problems assertively leads to greater problems later
  • A player that believes he has been wronged needs extra attention from the referee crew


Case Study: Advantage and Coming Back For Misconduct

FIFA Referee Andre Marriner provides a textbook example of playing advantage and coming back after the play to deal with misconduct.

In the first half of the match, Manchester City midfielder Ya Ya Toure was pressing forward at midfield when Chelsea’s Ramires kicks him in the knee. Toure immediately falls to the floor, but Manchester City retain possession, leading Referee Marriner to play advantage.

Case Study # 7-2013
Date 24 Feb 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Man City 2 – 0 Chelsea
Referee/Badge Andre Marriner, FIFA
At Issue Marriner plays advantage after a reckless challenge by Chelsea’s Ramires on Man City’s Toure

As can be seen from the reaction of a couple of the Man City players, they expect this injustice to be dealt with. So, while still playing the advantage, Marriner turns and points at the guilty party (Ramires) and says something akin to: “I’ll deal with you later”. This lets all of the players know that Marriner has seen the reckless challenge and that punishment is forthcoming. This allows players to get on with the game and not worry about retribution.

Toure’s teammates elect to play the ball into touch, at which time Marriner immediately signals for the physio to enter the field to provide treatment for Toure. He then quickly finds Ramires and issues the caution.

Nothing terribly exciting in this case study, but many times managing the little things keep us from needing to deal with the big things.

Case Study: Goal Line Position on Corner Pays Off Again

Referee Phil Dowd took up a position on the goal line for a crucial last-second corner kick in an FA Cup tie betwteen Oldham and Everton.  His choice of positions paid off handsomely.

On what would be the last play of the match, Oldham (blue) pushed everyone forward for a corner kick, including their goalkeeper.  The usual grabbing and pushing ensued, and when the corner was finally taken, the attacking goalkeeper leaped into the air with his arms raised high over his head.  From one angle, it appears the ball hits his outstretched hand and goes in the goal – as evidenced by the reaction of the Everton defenders on that side of the ball.

Case Study # 6-2013
Date 16 Feb 2013
Competition FA Cup, 5th Round Proper
Fixture/Result Oldham 2 – 2 Everton
Referee/Badge Phil Dowd, Select Group
At Issue Dowd took up a position on the goal line during the crucial last second corner kick.

But Referee Phil Dowd had wisely taken up a goal line position for this (and the previous) corner and was in perfect position to see that the ball was, in fact, headed in by Oldham player #14.

I have to ask the detractors: would the referee been able to get the call right from a “traditional” position near the top of the penalty area?  We probably can’t answer that question with any degree of certainty, but we can say that he was able to make the correct call from his “alternative” goal line position.

Maybe we can agree that there are at least some times where the goal line position on a corner kick is a good idea?