I must be honest, at halftime in the match against West Ham on Sunday, I was coming up with all sorts of conspiracy theories about how the refs have it in for us, and how they would do everything they could to make sure we didn’t win the league.
Seeing David Silva standing three yards offside yet being allowed to receive the ball and set up a goal for Man City against Southampton was bad enough, but the aberration that occurred towards the end of the first half of our game had me convinced that something fishy was going on.
The fact that Man City went on to win their game 4-1 rubbed it in even more, as it gave people the lazy excuse that they would have won the game 3-1 even without the offside goal. But Southampton were looking the better side and, having recovered from a goal down to equalise from the spot, the momentum was with them. Conceding a goal just prior to halftime would have been a big blow in itself, but to concede one that blatantly shouldn’t have stood must have completely destroyed the team spirit, and made the defeat feel inevitable.
Let’s not forget the amount of times over the years that Man Utd have been losing, only to be awarded a dodgy penalty or get another major decision their way, and then see them go on and smash four or five goals in and make it look like it was a convincing win. When really, it took a poor refereeing decision to go in their favour to give them the belief that it was their day and the wind was blowing their way.
We must have been dangerously close to suffering the same fate as Southampton did, as when the halftime whistle blew against West Ham you could see the disarray amongst the players and staff. Everyone wanted a word in the ear of the ref, but very few answers seemed to be given. Such an injustice against us could have completely killed the confidence within the squad, and led to a reckless second half performance where we were still bemoaning the fact that we should have been in the lead.
Luckily we showed the mental strength and character to clear our heads and put in a professional second half performance where we rightfully secured the three points. But this wasn’t the first time this season that we’ve had to bite our tongues and endure an absurd refereeing decision. How Samuel Eto’o didn’t get sent off or concede a penalty when we played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is a mystery. Raheem Sterling scored a goal against Man City that was disallowed for offside, when in fact he was probably as far onside as David Silva was offside on Saturday. And in the FA Cup against Arsenal, Howard Webb, in a perfect position, denied us what could have been used as an example of the very definition of a penalty.
It’s hard to think of too many decisions as clear-cut as these that have gone our way instead of against us. But I do have to hold my hands up and say that, on first view at least, I didn’t think we should have got our second penalty for the challenge on Jon Flanagan on Sunday. It looked like a 50-50 challenge where the keeper got a hand to the ball. I can’t fathom Sam Allardyce’s view that Flanagan dived, as he clearly went to reach for the ball and then went down as the keeper came into his stride. And rather than appealing, he was straight back up again trying to stretch for the ball and poke it towards goal. But for me, it was no penalty.
On the rare occurrence that we do get a wrong decision go our way, I usually can’t shake a certain sense of embarrassment. I want us to win outright; I don’t like the feeling that we’ve had to take any favours from poor officiating. But there wasn’t even a hint of that feeling on Sunday. Gerrard slotted home the penalty and, as far as I was concerned, justice had been done. Martin Tyler made the point in his commentary that two wrongs don’t make a right. Yet, what happened to the old chestnut of ‘these things even themselves out over the course of the season’? Is it not more convenient that, in this case, things evened themselves out over the course of the 90 minutes?
So by Sunday evening, I’d put my conspiracy theories to bed and realised that it was simply incompetence that we were having to deal with on a weekly basis from the refs. Being unable to trust the officials to get even the simplest of decisions correct is just another obstacle in the way of our title charge. I’m more than happy to applaud a ref on a solid performance, but too often we are seeing them being stubborn and ignorant, and grabbing the headlines themselves with increasingly bizarre behaviour and judgements. We have five matches to go, but who knows what each one will bring in a game where apparently anything can go on any given day, depending on what mood the man in charge is in. It is just something football fans have learnt to tolerate, as most of us do respect what a difficult job it is. But they sure don’t make it easy.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)