Four Minutes – Three Fouls – Two Cautions – One Objective
There was an interesting sequence of events in the first half of Manchester City’s 4 – 0 win over Newcastle in the EPL Saturday. Background: Manchester City and Newcastle are at opposite ends of the table, and Man City still has an outside chance at the Premier League title. Newcastle is struggling and does not have the talent possessed by Man City. In the 16th minute there was a clumsy challenge by Newcastle’s Cisse on Man City’s Lescott resulting in a free kick.
The sequence: in the 26th minute, Newcastle’s Sissoku slides into a 50-50 ball near the half line as Man City’s Zabaleta is approaching the ball from Zabaleta’s right. Sissoku arrives just after Zambaleta clears the ball, and fouls him. The tackle looked bad in slow motion, as Sissoku slid studs-first into Zambaleta’s ankle. Man City players and bench personnel complained about the tackle. Referee Neil Swarbrick was in a good position to see the play. He made it clear to everyone that he saw the play and that it was a fifty-fifty challenge. He then had a very strong word to Sissoku to take it down a notch.
Only thirty seconds later, after the free kick, Newcastle’s Anita fouls Man City’s Silva as Silva is pushing the ball towards goal at the edge of the Newcastle penalty area. After missing the ball, Anita lifts his leg as Silva goes by, making contact at the knee and tripping Silva. Referee Swarbrick blew the whistle and then issued a Caution to Anita. The Caution may have been that the foul was reckless (knee high trip) or tactical (player moving at goal), but was likely influenced by the hard foul by Sossuko less than a minute before. A Send-off for DOGSO was not indicated as other defenders were closing in on Silva.
In the 29th minute, Newcastle’s Cabaye fouled Man City’s Tevez. Again, Referee Swarbrick issued a Caution. The Caution was either for UB-Reckless or for UB-Persistent Infringement, as this was the third hard, clumsy challenge in less than four minutes.
At that moment, there had been four hard Newcastle fouls to one careless foul by Man City. After the Cautions to the two Newcastle midfielders, Newcastle settled down and played within the rules. The final foul count was just six for Man City and eight for Newcastle. Four minutes resulted in three fouls and two Cautions but Referee Swarbrick was able to achieve one objective – better game management. The game needed the Cautions, and the rest of the match was better for it. There was no other misconduct by either team the rest of the way.
The lesson: we need to recognize when a less-skilled team needs to be reeled in. Perhaps they are just clumsy; perhaps they are sending a message; perhaps it is the only way they believe they can compete. We need to look for the pattern, the location, the intensity, and the context of fouls and be prepared to protect skilled teams and players from misconduct. Some coaches will tell players to keep challenging hard until the referee issues a Caution, and then they will know where the line is drawn. We need to make sure we know where the line should be drawn.
During the remainder of the first half, there were a few other interesting points from which we can learn from Referee Swarbrick.
Leading up to the 39th minute, various Newcastle players had been drawing out restarts. At the time, the score was nil-nil – a moral victory for Newcastle. In the same way that teams will delay to “protect” a victory, Newcastle was trying to “protect” a draw. The biggest culprit was Newcastle GK Elliott. In the 39th minute, after a goal kick was delayed, Referee Swarbrick had enough. He blew the whistle, trotted in, pointed at his watch, told Elliott to knock it off, and likely told him the next incident would result in a Caution. Delaying the Restart can be Cautionable in the opinion of the Referee. In this situation, Referee Swarbrick decided to use his game management skills without resorting to a card. The lesson: issue cards when the game needs the card or the player needs the card, and recognize when they don’t.
In the 40th minute, Man City’s Silva and Zabaleta converge on a ball in the Newcastle goal area that had been passed by Tevez. The ball went into the goal. The Assistant Referee had the flag up for an apparent Offside violation. Silva had been in an offside position. Zabaleta had been onside. The Referee ran over and conferred with the Assistant Referee to confirm that Silva had been in an Offside position and that Silva had been the player to touch the ball. The goal was disallowed. The lesson: as referees, we need to confirm that all is well with our assistant referee when a ball enters the goal, and when necessary, we need to go talk to make sure we get it right. This means EYE CONTACT!
In the 43rd minute, Man City Dzeko is bumped from behind by Newcastle’s Taylor while in the Newcastle penalty area. He immediately goes down, throwing both his feet up into the air behind him, appealing for a foul. Referee Swarbrick, in a good position to see both the contact and the flop, decided the flop was worse and told Dzeko to get up. Taylor came over to Referee Swarbrick at the next stoppage and thanked him for not falling for the flop. The lesson is not that we want to get thanks from players. The lesson: we need to be in the right position to see the contact, skilled enough to recognize the flop, and close enough to sell the call.
Man City went on to win 4 – 0, but since Manchester United won as well, their championship hopes are fading quickly.