The state of penalty decisions
It felt so good to see the best football league in the world kick off this past weekend, a summer without a major international tournament is sheer torture for any fan of the sport. The opening weekend as always didn’t fail to disappoint, with a goal of the season contender already courtesy of Hugo Rodallega for Wigan and the usual controversial talking points.
One (in fact, arguably two) of these controversial moments came in the game played yesterday between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane. In what was a hard-fought battle Spurs came out victorious thanks to a fine goal by defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto and a towering headed goal from new boy Sebastien Bassong, but unfortunately the talking point at the end of the game wasn’t about a brilliant performance from the home team but the fact that Liverpool didn’t get two penalty decisions in their favour – if they’d been awarded both and converted them they would have won the game 3-2 instead of losing 2-1.
This brings me to something I’ve been annoyed about for a long time. When a team is behind to superior opposition on the day they nearly always look for soft penalty decisions to bring them back into it, and in my opinion that’s what Liverpool did yesterday because there was very little chance of Torres, Gerrard or Kuyt scoring from open play. It’s annoying because it spoils the game and takes the spotlight off the winning team a lot of the time, “should they have got a penalty?” is nearly always the first talking point at the end of any game if a player is so much as sneezed on in the box rather than “a fine victory for the winners, lets take a look at their quality moments.”
I’ve heard from players and managers of eras gone by that at one time you had to practically break an opponents leg to concede a free kick and commit first degree murder in the box to get a penalty. Nowadays everyone’s gone soft from the referees to the players, free kicks are given for the slightest touch and penalty decisions are often the result of a cleverly disguised dive, especially when the team is losing at the time. This brings me back to the Spurs/Liverpool game, Liverpool actually got a penalty due to a moment of madness from goalkeeper Gomes bringing down Glen Johnson after totally missing the ball. No arguments there, and Steven Gerrard converted the spot kick into a goal. From there Assou-Akotto was at the center of controversy as he ploughed into Andriy Voronin in the box, and of course he went down like a wounded deer the moment he knew the defender was coming in at pace. The second penalty shout was a point-blank handball from the same player that was unavoidable, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez later admitted that particular shout wasn’t valid but was fuming over the Voronin incident. Funny thing is, he probably wouldn’t have given it more than a passing thought if his team had ultimately won the match.
Benitez has stated that the only reason the referee didn’t give at least one more penalty to his side is because they’d already had one earlier in the game. Fair point, but there’s more to it that that I think. From experience the referee and his linesmen probably knew that Liverpool were getting desperate in the closing minutes of the game when the two penalty decisions needed to be made, and I honestly have to applaud the referee for not giving them. As I mentioned the Reds had no chance of scoring from open play and were totally outclassed by their opponents, the only thing left to do as the clock was ticking down was hope and prey to get another penalty gift wrapped for them to at least go back to Anfield with a draw. It would have been really harsh on Tottenham if they’d lost the game simply due to two or maybe three penalties, so while I think the reason for the referee not awarding any more after the first one was partially due to already awarding one previously I also think Liverpool were deliberately looking for another one. Good call on the referees part, he would have robbed Tottenham of a deserved win if he hadn’t seen through that ploy. For those few final minutes he probably knew a Liverpool player would have to be crippled or killed to get another one like it was in the old days, that would have been the only way for the players to prove they weren’t purposely looking for a second penalty.
The point is that this happens all too often in games, soft penalties can totally change the complexion of a game and it has a tendency to only benefit the bigger clubs. It doesn’t help that often players and managers can bully the officials into giving one, but for once they stood their ground in yesterdays game and even sent off Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee for verbal abuse. They controlled the situation admirably in my opinion, it’s so refreshing to see the underdog in a game like that not be screwed over by dodgy refereeing for once. Remember when Pedro Mendes (of Spurs coincidentally) managed to lob Roy Carroll in the Manchester United goal? He was robbed of a clear goal by the linesman, another example in a long list of smaller clubs being robbed of potential victories by poor refereeing usually due to soft penalties but sometimes something even more outrageous like the Mendes example. They got it right yesterday though, more of that in the future please.
Switching the focus to where credit is due, Tottenham played brilliantly and didn’t deserve to have their performance take a back seat to what would have been two harsh penalty decisions if they were given. Aaron Lennon displayed moments of class down the right wing turning opposition defenders inside out and at long last it really looks like Luca Mordic is showing the form that he displayed during the Euro 2008 competition for his country. It was the defence who shone for me though, both goals were scored by defenders and between them they did a excellent job of keeping Torres in particular from getting anywhere near their goal. Considering defensive problems have been Tottenham’s weak spot for some time with constant injuries to the likes of Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate costing the team a lot of points it’s great to see changes are happening. They’ll be looking to string together good defensive performances, for sure Bassong already looks to be a great purchase and manager Harry Redknapp has stated he wants to spend more money before the transfer window shuts, a proper replacement for Woodgate if he’s got any sense.
If Spurs can maintain that level of performance for the majority of the season they should have little difficulty finishing within the top six. Harry Redknapp is a fantastic manager and has a good set of players at his disposal, good luck to him I say. Liverpool should still have a good season despite this blip, I just wish Benitez would put a little more blame on the ineffectiveness of his goal scoring players instead of refereeing decisions. He’s always been one of these managers who blames everyone but his team when they lose, in fact he’s still going on about yesterday’s loss today (and probably will all week) when they should really be concentrating on winning their next game. He’ll never change.
Posted on August 17, 2009, in Sport and tagged football, Harry Redknapp, Liverpool, Penalties, Penalty, Premier League, Premiership, Rafael Benitez, Soccer, Spurs, Tottenham. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.