Editor Tom Bodell reflects on an eventful afternoon at The Goldsands Stadium and a useful point in the context of a fiery afternoon on the south coast
MAKE no mistake, Watford’s point against Bournemouth was a good one, even if Beppe Sannino’s men were on course for three before referee Carl Boyeson took centre stage.
The Hornets had been well on top before Mr Boyeson stepped into the limelight, and had Eddie Howe’s men not been awarded a contentious first spot kick, this correspondent has every reason to suggest we’d have been reflecting on back-to-back wins for the first time since September.
In the event, the game was turned on its head by a bizarre series of events, which were almost certainly clearer to those listening at home on BBC Three Counties or Hornets Player than those of us in the ground – as is the nature of being at the game!
First and foremost, it’s good to see an assistant referee actually showing that he has a pair and making a decision. All too often they stand there, devoid of any incisiveness or confidence, leaning on the referee for bread-and-butter decisions such as throw-ins.
So credit Johnny Flag for that, but what followed was chaos.
Referring to Twitter at the time, it was pretty clear that Gabriele Angella had taken the fall for someone else’s indiscretion, though, to be perfectly honest, there appeared to be no more contact than when two players come together normally.
With the benefit of a replay on the Football League Show last night, it’s clear that Fitz Hall commits the offence of shirt-pulling for which the linesman flags. Why, when the linesman has seen the incident the wrong player has been sent off, we’ll never know.
Though Sannino has failed to confirm whether an appeal will be lodged yet or not, there is a precedent of a mistaken identity red card being rescinded, when Lloyd Doyley and Aidy Mariappa were confused back in the day.
Either way, a straight red card for holding a player back seems extremely harsh, especially when the second penalty saw only a yellow card produced for what Mr Boyeson deemd to be the denial of clear goalscoring opportunity.
Referees need help, there’s no two ways about it, regardless of whether you support the notion of technology in football.
The game is too fast for a 40-something year-old bloke to chase 20-somethings up and down the pitch, particularly when we see devastating counter-attacks a la Brighton last season or Barnsley this!
Therefore wholeheartedly support video technology being brought in for penalty decisions – they are the aspect most likely to affect the outcome of a game – rather than every free-kick, throw-in, corner or foul.
Both decisions in Saturdays’s game were hard for Mr Boyeson to call; both happened with the players involved effectively screening the actual incident, and whilst his assistant was looking across the play and had a marginally better view, it was by no means flawless.
To expect a referee to sprint to follow the play and then be watching the action – still happening at pace – closely enough to compute instantly whether or not a foul has occurred or not is simply ridiculous.
As for Marc Pugh’s dive, he’s doing what many would do in the situation, maximising his side’s chances of scoring by going down in a position where the referee really can’t see if there was contact.
Of course, lots of players committing the offence of diving doesn’t make it right, but it happens and it’s something else that the powers that be need to work harder to stamp out.
If we have a Dubious Goals Panel for the Premier League, why do we not have a panel which go over these incidents and determine whether or a player dived? If the player is found guilty, slap them with a fine and a three match ban.
Three match bans might normally be reserved for red cards for violent conduct, but cheating is a serious offence also and regardless of whether a reciprocal ban suggests that the two offences are of equal magnitude or not, it’s the kind of sanction which would hopefully make players think twice before diving.
To finish on a positive note, the performance of Hall was a joy to behold. The veteran centre-back was a colossus throughout and I refuse to believe that One Size wouldn’t improve any Championship defence.
It can only be a case of scepticism about his injury record which has prevented him joining someone else, because the technical and mental tools are all there. I said it last season and I’ll say it again, he’s a Rolls Royce of a defender and deserves a contract until the end of the season.
Sannino clearly likes him and was very enthusiastic about him when talking to The Watford Observer this week, and having joined the club from Italy (presumably) without the baggage of knowing Hall’s recent injury record, he might be happier to give him a deal for the season than Gianfranco Zola was.
To keep the theme of positivity going, the players rightly deserve the credit of Sannino for their heart, desire, character and the like in defending so valiantly to take a point back to WD18 in the face of every conceivable disadvantage.
Plenty have said this season that the players don’t care, don’t get along or are too arrogant and expect to roll over whoever is put in front of them. Personally, I’ve not bought that from day one, but the second half show of defiance from every player on the field should be more than enough evidence to put those theories to bed once and for all.
Keep the faith.