How one good penalty call can ruin entire game.

This Saturday Brighton & Hove Albion hosted Burnley.  This was a game of huge importance to these two bottom-half of the English Premier League teams and with consequential implications for the battle to stay in the EPL.  In fact, with the win, Burnley had a chance to go above the relegation zone and Brighton’s loss would drag it down ever so closer to it.  And while the game lacked some of the quality expected when top teams of the league play, it was still exciting, fast paced and certainly full of drama, reflecting the high stakes at play.   

The game was officiated by Stuart Attwell.  Mr. Attwell is one of the youngest EPL referees, making his debut in Premier League in 2008.   The game was played in torrential rain which made it challenging for the refereeing crew. However, until the 72nd minute of the game, Mr. Attwell and his crew managed the game well and none of his calls were controversial.  It all changed, almost immediately, in the 72nd minute of the game when one no-penalty call was followed by another call pointing to the penalty spot.

It all started in Burnley’s penalty area when Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick corralled a bouncing ball with his arm. To the amazement of Brighton’s Glenn Murray who was in the middle of it all, Mr. Attwell – despite his excellent positioning – waived Brighton’s cries for penalty and allowed the play to continue. This, in turn, led to Burnley’s fast counteract and less than 60 seconds later, Burnley’s Barnes was one-on-one with Brighton’s goalkeeper Matt Ryan.  While Barnes was attempting to run around the goalkeeper, Ryan dove in a desperate attempt to dispossess him of the ball but missed it and brought Barnes down. Mr. Attwell, again very well positioned, let the play continue for a few seconds allowing potential advantage to develop, but since the advantage did not materialize, he pointed to the spot. The resulting penalty kick was converted by Barnes, increasing Burnley’s lead to 3:0.

Mr. Attwell’s decision to award a penalty against Brighton was correct.  Mr. Attwell’s handling of the second penalty call was even more impressive because he had presence of mind to delay his whistle to see whether the advantage would materialize.  Referees often are too quick or impulsive in those high drama situations so Mr. Attwell’s coolheaded and deliberate decision was remarkable.

Law 5 of the Laws of the Game empowers referee to apply advantage.  It states that referee:

allows play continue when an offense occurs and the non-offending team will benefit from the advantage and penalizes the offense if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at the time or within a few seconds.

Mr. Attwell’s application of the advantage principles was by the book.

When dust settled, Mr. Attwell cautioned the goalkeeper for brining Barnes down.   That decision was also in line with the Laws of the Game which state that a player must be cautioned if a player:

Denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offense which was an attempt to play the ball and the referee awards a penalty kick.

And, we would be remiss If we did not highlight the assistant referees no-offside call on the Brighton’s counterattack that led to the award of the penalty kick and eventually third goal for Brighton.  Even though the counterattack developed with lightning speed, the assistant referee was focused and made the right call.

Unfortunately, all of these excellent refereeing decisions – penalty call, application of advantage, caution, no-offside call – were overshadowed by Mr. Attwell’s incorrect no-penalty call less than 60 seconds before.  Instead of highlighting his competence, all Mr. Attwell’s subsequent correct calls only emphasized the one call that was incorrect.  That is how one bad call can ruin otherwise good refereeing performance.

Let us know what your thoughts are about Mr. Attwell’s decisions.

Categories: EPL, Laws of the Game

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