Craig Pawson was wrong to dismiss Sebastian Larsson for his challenge on Ander Herrera during Manchester United's win over Sunderland on Sunday and it was a decision that demonstrated how confused referees are about whether any studs-up tackle now merits an immediate red card.
It was certainly a foul but I felt it was only worthy of a yellow card. For a red card to be issued the referee must be certain a foul is not only reckless but is also committed with excessive force. Larsson’s challenge was reckless but I did not view it as using excessive force and the player himself was clearly upset about the decision.
Having said that, it is not hard to understand why Pawson reached the conclusion he did. Earlier this season the same official was widely criticised for not sending-off Marcos Rojo for a two-footed challenge on Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha.
The Manchester United defender did not even make contact with his opponent but that does not matter - the challenge was both reckless and with excessive force.
Rojo was also fortunate not to be dismissed by Michael Oliver for a two-footed challenge on Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, while there was a furore over Mike Dean’s decision to send off West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli for a tackle on Phil Jones. That red card was later rescinded, but it highlights the inconsistency among referees over challenges where players have their studs raised.
One week you will be red carded, the next a yellow will suffice. That is infuriating for everyone involved in the game because the one thing that drives managers mad is inconsistency.
That inconsistency is also visible in the appeals process. I was surprised Feghouli’s red card was overturned because you have to demonstrate it was a clear and obvious error - and by the letter of the law I am not certain it was. Sunderland may appeal Larsson’s dismissal but they could run into the same issue because the Swede did have his studs raised when he went into the challenge.
What it does prove is how much easier it would be for everyone if there was a Video Assistant Referee looking at every decision. The referee only gets one chance to see an incident and replays would give the team of officials a far better chance of making the right call and ensuring consistency across the board.
At the moment confusion reigns, and Sunderland can consider themselves unfortunate Pawson deemed Larsson’s challenge to be as serious as he did. It is an issue the elite group of referees must get a better handle on because the current situation is just not good enough.
Keith Hackett is a former referee and resident expert on You-Are-The-Ref.com