We saw three penalties awarded for very similar incidents in yesterday’s Premier League games, and two of them were incorrect decisions.
Michael Oliver’s award of a penalty for Gabriel’s challenge on Harry Kane was the one of those three calls the officials got right. It was a clumsy challenge by the Arsenal defender and there was clear contact with Kane’s right leg. Kane may have made the most of it but it was a tackle Gabriel could have pulled out of and he chose not to.
There were two things in Michael’s favour as he made that decision. The first was that he remained calm. Referees are always told the process is: See, think, act. I fear not enough officials think about their decisions and award them far too quickly. Michael took his time and made sure in his own mind, giving himself every chance of getting the decision right.
The second factor was that he was perfectly placed to make the call. That was not the case when Neil Swarbrick decided Marcus Rashford had been brought down by Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Neil’s view of the incident was blocked by other players and I believe he guessed – something you must never do. Replays showed Rashford went to ground far too easily, and this was the type of incident where I would like retrospective punishment to be brought in where a player has clearly conned the referee.
The third incident was when Manchester City’s Leroy Sané was awarded a penalty when he appeared to be brought down by Marten de Roon. De Roon was furious and no wonder – replays showed Sané instigated the contact. Kevin Friend, the referee, was fooled and pointed to the spot, much to Middlesbrough’s anger.
All of the incidents involved a measure of contact, and they demonstrated how difficult it is for referees as players try to trick them into awarding decisions in their favour.
With that in mind, the officials must judge how much contact there has been, who instigated it and whether it was sufficient to merit sanction. It is an extremely difficult thing to do, but I am sure Neil and Kevin will be sorely disappointed when they watch replays of their decisions. There is simply no way they could have been certain when they pointed to the spot, and if you have any doubt in your mind you have to wave play on.
Next time, I wonder if the two of them may do exactly that and err on the side of caution by making no decision rather than, potentially, the wrong decision.
Keith Hackett is a former referee and resident expert on You-Are-The-Ref.com