Date: 3rd November 2012 at 10:01am
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IT’S not news to Liverpool fans to hear that the Reds have suffered time and again at the hands of controversial decisions in the last eighteen months or so.

There have been numerous examples in recent times where referees and their assistants have ruled against the Anfield club when the decisions could, and in many cases should, have gone the other way.

In this article I take a look at five such key calls and examine the impact that these decisions have had on both Kenny Dalglish’s, and Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool sides.

Fulham (away) 2011/12

Cast your minds back to last season and an away game for the Reds at Fulham. Kenny Dalglish’s side arrived at the Cottage in need of three points to give their season a boost. Fulham, on a bad run of just one win in eight games, were equally keen to secure a home victory. Craven Cottage is never an easy place to visit, the Cottagers are always strong at home , and the game was a typically hard fought encounter.

Liverpool had the best of the play and, typical of last season, created numerous opportunities which, through poor finishing, good goalkeeping and the unforgiving woodwork, they failed to convert. Then, in the 66th minute, Enrique’s chipped pass found Suarez in the area and Liverpool’s star man volleyed the ball acrobatically into the Fulham goal. 1-0 Liverpool, the deadline had finally been broken, or had it. No, alas the assistant had raised his flag and the goal was disallowed for offside. The problem? Suarez was clearly onside when the ball was played and the goal should have stood, no question.

Just minutes later the referee sent Jay Spearing off in another contentious incident. Spearing won the ball clearly but his follow through took him into Dembele and the referee ruled that the tackle displayed excessive force. Fulham went on to win the game when Dempsey punished a mistake from Reina in the 85th minute, Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish were left spitting blood.

These decisions, especially the wrongly disallowed goal, cost Liverpool dearly in that game. The Reds had been in the ascendency for the entirety of the second period up to that point and, with Fulham’s awful run of form to be considered, the goal might just have broken their resistance. Had the goal been correctly allowed, Liverpool would likely have won that game and Jay Spearing would perhaps not have made that challenge. The win would have boosted confidence and gone a long way towards altering what became the narrative of Liverpool’s season under Kenny Dalglish, ie: dominating games, failing to take chances and dropping points to late goals.

Chelsea (Wembley) 2011/12

Contentious decision number two came in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea at Wembley. The Reds hadn’t played particularly well in the first half of the match and trailed 1-0 at half-time thanks to a goal from Ramires. The second half started equally ominously as Drogba put the Londoners 2-0 up. However, the introduction of Andy Carroll seemed to change the game and the big Geordie scored a magnificent equaliser on 64 minutes. Chelsea tired and Liverpool began to dominate.

Then, with just nine minutes remaining, Carroll rose at the far post and powered a header on goal from close range. The number 9 wheeled away in celebration as Cech clawed the ball back onto the crossbar, from a position seemingly behind the line. Not in the eyes of the officials though as they allowed play to continue, seemingly convinced that the ball had not in fact crossed the line. Carroll was astonished, Suarez seething and Kenny Dalglish was left cursing his luck yet again. Though not thoroughly conclusive, replays certainly suggested heavily that the whole of the ball had crossed the line, with Cech pulling the ball up and backwards onto the crossbar. Carroll was in no doubt, however unfortunately for him, neither were the officials.

The non-award of that goal denied Liverpool the chance of going on to win that game or, at the very least, taking the match to extra-time. It instead allowed Chelsea to see the game out for a 2-1 win. Had the goal been awarded, it might have been the Reds going on to celebrate two trophies last year, rather than the London Blues.

Manchester United (Anfield) 2012/13

Fast forward to this season and the Anfield clash against Manchester United. There were a number of highly contentious decisions in this match and, you guessed it, all of them went against the Anfield Reds. Leaving aside the Jonjo Shelvey/Jonny Evans inident, whereby two players left the ground going into a challenge for a loose ball with the Liverpool player receiving a red card and the United player no censure whatsoever, I’m going to concentrate on the two penalty incidents.

In the second half, with the score locked at 1-1, Luis Suarez attempted to collect a pass in the penalty area under the close attentions of the afore mentioned Jonny Evans. Suarez, unsurprisingly, beat the more leaden-footed Evans to the ball and, in Evans’s attempt to get to the ball, the defender was late and clearly caught Suarez, sending the striker to the ground. Referee Halsey waved away the appeals, content that Suarez had dived. Replays, of course, confirmed that Suarez had quite obviously been tripped but Liverpool were again denied a spot-kick.

In the closing stages of the match, with the scores still at 1-1, a calamity on the halfway line allowed Valencia to race clear down the right hand side and into the Liverpool area. Glen Johnson busted a lung to get back into a position to make a challenge on the Ecuadorian, who seemed to have delayed too long and missed his chance. As Johnson slid in, between Reina and Valencia, he made no contact with the United man whatsoever, however Valencia was in mid-air as soon as the slide came in, and hit the deck claiming a penalty; which Halsey duly gave. Replays confirmed that the only contact between Johnson and Valencia had been Johnson’s flailing arm, brushing the United right-back’s back while he was already on his way down. Never enough for a penalty, never in a month of Sundays.

These two incorrect penalty decisions, coming in the same match, cost Liverpool at least one point and, very possibly all three. The damage done was not just unitary, in terms of points, but also psychological, in terms of the boost that the players, the manager and the fans would have gotten if they’d beaten their biggest rivals at home with only ten men. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Stoke City (Anfield) 2012/13

The fourth decision, or failure to make a decision, is of a slightly different nature, it relates to the match against Stoke at Anfield several weeks ago. Stoke are known as a “physical side”, there’s nothing wrong with this in itself, provided the physicality is employed within the rules then certainly it is acceptable. In Stoke City’s case however the term “physical side” is for the most part a euphemism for thuggish brutes.

The game against Liverpool was no different for Stoke as they reverted to type almost straight from the off. Over-zealous tackling and intimidation tactics ensued from the beginning and Liverpool’s spritely forwards were on the receiving end. Stoke are tactical in their brutality, cynically rotating the fowler so that players pick up bookings but never twice.

There was no change at Anfield as they racked up six yellows over the course of the game. Referees are far too light on Stoke and their approach for my liking and in doing so are legitimising a style of play which is allowing the entire Premier League to degenerate and regress in terms of quality, something which can be seen by English clubs’ European failures in recent years. Quite frankly, the way they play, Stoke should have players sent off every week and against Liverpool, they were more than lucky to have eleven players on the pitch at the end of the game as both Robert Huth and Dean Whitehead should have seen red.

The incident which I’m concentrating on came in the first few minutes and it, quite simply, had to have resulted in Robert Huth receiving his marching orders. Just minutes into the game, Huth became involved in a tussle with Suarez which saw the German throw the Liverpool striker to the ground. Not content with having done that Huth, one of Stoke’s worst transgressors, proceeded to quite deliberately stamp on Suarez’s chest. There are no two ways about it, the stamp was deliberate and was seen by the referee but, instead of pulling out a deserved red card for serious foul play or violent conduct, the referee did nothing, absolutely nothing!

Coming so early in the game, the correct decision- to send Huth off – would’ve been a huge setback for the visitors and would have handed Liverpool the initiative, giving them every chance of going on to record their first home victory of the season. As it was, referee Mason’s spinelessness allowed Pulis’s side to proceed with their game-plan of defending deep and using bully-boy tactics to stifle their opponents. The game ended 0-0 but I think it’s fair to say that, had Mason done his job, the Reds would’ve picked up three points instead of just one.

So to the most recent and most infuriating example of officials’ incompetence costing Liverpool Football Club. You all know which incident I’m talking about and you’re all bound to be as angry over it as I am.

Everton (Goodison Park) 2012/13

Last Sunday’s Merseyside derby was a blood and thunder affair, owing more to commitment and stubbornness than to guile and trickery. Derby games are often like that, as winning becomes far more important than playing pretty football. Liverpool stormed into a two goal lead, only to be pegged back before half-time by two Everton goals. The second half was much cagier and, although both sides had chances to take the lead, the score remained deadlocked as the match entered injury time.

In the 94th minute however, Liverpool were awarded a free-kick just inside the Everton half. Gerrard, whose inch perfect delivery had allowed Suarez to make it 2-0 earlier in the game, again sent a glorious ball into the box, picking out Coates. The Giant Uruguayan defender rose and met the ball, heading the ball down into the six yard box for Suarez, his international team-mate, to prod the ball past Howard into the back of the net. Suarez wheeled away as Liverpool fans went wild, celebrating a last-ditch derby victory on their neighbours’ patch. Not for long though as the referee’s assistant, after a good 3-4 seconds, decided to raise his flag and disallow the goal for offside.

Suarez was, of course, well onside. He was being played onside by two Everton defenders and the linesman, perfectly positioned, should have been able to see that without any hindrance whatsoever. As to why the flag was raised so late, I have no clue, other than to guess that he was influenced by the violent appeals of a couple of Everton defenders. That however, is no excuse; we need strong officials, not lily-livered ‘yes’ men. When asked by Gerrard at the final whistle, whether it was offside, the assistant replied “I think so”. This is a laughable response – an official must be 100% sure and if he isn’t, the benefit of the doubt should go to the attacker; it says as much in the rules.

Needless to say, this ridiculous decision cost Liverpool all three points and goes down as another example in a long list of games which have been taken away from the Anfield club by poor, incompetent officiating. Winning the derby like that would’ve been a huge morale boost and a massive lift for Brendan Rodgers and his small squad. As it is, the players and fans are left to rue another hard luck story and to wonder what exactly they have to do to get the points that they so clearly deserve.

Just one final point to flag up. Had the decisions which I’ve written about gone for us instead of against us this season, Liverpool would have at least five, if not seven more points on the board. As it is, the Reds sit in twelfth place with ten points, the correct decisions and the points gained from being on the receiving end of them would have seen Liverpool challenging Tottenham for fourth place as things stand. We can only hope that things start to turn around and officials begin to do their jobs correctly, because right now their ineptitude is costing us dearly.

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