The Virtues of the Slow Whistle
The February 2 match with Aston Villa at Everton was exciting, with Everton erasing a two-goal deficit. Fellaini’s goal in added time that leveled the match was an example of the virtues of a slow whistle, especially in the Penalty Area.
In the 90th+3 minute, Everton was awarded a corner kick. Referee Michael Jones had previously dealt with several Everton/Aston Villa dust-ups on set pieces. He was monitoring activity just inside the PA. Everton was using a basketball-style screen to free up attackers rotating to goal. After the first Everton player rotated in, Jones was focused on some minor shoving in the area of the screen. Everton #7 (Jelavic) then rotated through the same screen towards the far post, marked by Aston Villa #6 (Clark). When Jelavic cut towards the near post, Clark, having lost a defensible position, shoved him with two arms from behind, knocking him to the ground.
From the camera angles, it appeared to be a clear foul, and within the view of Jones. Clark demonstrated the classic hands in the air of the offender. Jelavic did not show any obvious signs of a dive, and quickly tried to get to his feet as the ball approached, as the push occurred with the ball in the air. Some referees would have awarded a penalty kick at that moment. Jones did not.
Rather than signal the foul, Jones waited to see what happened next. Fellaini rose undefended to get his head (and hair) on the ball and scored. Silent advantage was applied, the ultimate punishment was administered, and there were no game management issues as there would have been with Aston Villa players had Fellaini missed or Everton players had he not. With silent advantage, if Everton had not scored, Jones could have then awarded a penalty kick.
Note that in accordance with directives, Jones did not signal advantage. At the highest levels, players understand what happened. At a youth match, however, we may need to explain to the player sprawled on the ground why a foul was not called to avoid problems later.
The lesson: we should avoid the self-imposed urgency of whistling obvious fouls immediately, and instead wait to see what happens next. Advantage is a wonderful tool. We should not be pressured by coaches screaming the moment a player is knocked down or an arm plays the ball. The same coaches will also scream if a goal is scored a moment after we whistle, and we must disallow it.
Another interesting note about this match. Fouls were about three to one, with Aston Villa committing more than 20. It appears at least one of AV’s four cautions was for persistent infringement (Bentecke’s 5th foul in the 45th+1 minute). We should always have a general sense of the foul count in the match so as to recognize PI as a defensive tactic, as an intimidation tactic, or just due to lack of skill. If AV’s manager had said what we sometimes hear, “Hey ref, call it both ways”, the correct response would have been, “I am, you guys just foul a whole lot more.” Fouls are not supposed to be “even”, just consistently administered…