In a game full of drama and with huge implications for both the top and bottom of the English Barclays Premier League between Aston Villa and Chelsea, referee Lee Mason and his refereeing crew had their hands full. The game witnessed three goals, two of these were historic and record setting goals by Frank Lampard, one controversial no-goal cleared off the goal line, seven yellow cards and two red cards.
Given the high stakes of this game – for Chelsea Championship League spot and Aston Villa relegation from the league - it was not surprising that Mr. Mason was called to action very early in the game. Indeed, he issued his first caution in only the 4th minute of the game. The caution was issued to Nathan Baker for a hard foul on Chelsea’s Juan Mata. In fact, Baker should have considered himself very lucky because his lunging tackle completely missed the ball, violently upended Mata and came from behind. Truth to be told, Mr. Mason could have easily – and should have - sent him off for serious foul play. Under FIFA Laws of the Game, “any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.” Baker’s foul easily met these criteria.
Ten minutes later, Aston Villa broke the impasse and scored the first goal of the match. The goal came on Christian Benteke’s near-post shot into Chelsea’s goal. This was a piece of individual brilliance by Benteke. After collecting the ball near half-line, the big Belgian simply sprinted past Chelsea’s defender Gary Cahil, turned him the wrong way in the penalty area, and unleashed measured shot into Chelsea’s near goal post catching Petr Cech completely wrong-footed. Aston Villa was deservedly leading 1:0.
Few minutes after the goal was scored, Mr. Mason issued his second yellow card of the game. In the 16 minute, Chelsea’s Ramirez made a nasty and reckless tackle on the goal scorer Benteke and Mr. Mason rightfully showed him a yellow card.
In the 36th minute of the game, Mr. Mason was forced go to the book again. This time it was Benteke who earned the referee’s ire after he flung his elbow into Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta’s face. After reviewing the replays, it looked like Benteke had gotten away with one here as the elbow blow appeared to be intentional. Indeed, according to the USSF Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, when evaluating aerial challenges where elbows are used, referees should consider whether the elbow was used as a “weapon” or “tool.” (See the chart below.)
Based on the criteria identified on the chart above, Benteke’s elbow challenge should have been sanctioned as serious foul play and punished with a red card.
In the 42nd minute of the game, Chelsea’s John Terry was booked for a cynical, and professional, foul on Sylla who stole the errant pass and was charging down the field toward Chelsea’s goal. Fortunately for Terry, Mr. Mason was in a forgiving mood and settled on a yellow card instead of red one for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. We can only surmise that Mr. Mason must have determined that the two Chelsea defenders in the vicinity were close enough to stop Sylla's run (see picture below).
In the 45th minute of the game, Ramirez was in referee Mason’s cross hairs again after committing yet another reckless foul by challenging for the ball with his outstretched leg, high above Agbonlahor’s shoulder. There is no doubt that Ramirez’s high-footed challenge endangered Agbonlahor’s safety and therefore was reckless. Second yellow – and the resulting red – was well deserved.
In the 59th minute of the game, Benteke once again drew referee Mason’s attention. This time, while challenging for the ball, he dangerously raised his leg above John Terry’s waistline and smashed his cleats into Terry’s ribs. Referee Mason had no choice and issued a second caution to Benteke for a reckless foul.
After the teams were brought back to equal strengths, Chelsea picked up the tempo and began to press for equalizer. Sure enough, it took Chelsea only five minutes to get the equalizer on Frank Lampard’s powerful left-footed shot from 16 yards away into the top left corner of Brad Guzan’s goal. This was Frank Lampard’s historic 202 goal which tied Chelsea’s all time goal scoring record for a single player.
In the 72nd minute of the game, shouts for the goal-line technology echoed in the stadium – at least from those rooting for Chelsea. Gary Cahill chested the ball inside Villa’s penalty area and unleased a shot which beat Villa's Guzan. However, Villa’s Sylla was standing on the goal line and was able to trap the ball on the line. With the ball swirling on the line, both Chelsea’s Demba Ba and Villa’s Ashley Westwood lunged after the ball with Villa’s defender being adjudged to have successfully cleared the ball before it entirely crossed the goal line. Villa supporters breathed sigh of relief.
Aston Villa’s hearts were broken by yet another Frank Lampard’s goal in the 87 minute of the game – a simple tap-in after the ball was sharply crossed into Villa’s penalty area. With this goal, Lampard became Chelsea's all-time leading goal scorer.