In the latest edition of Ref Review, we look at the two major talking points from Celtic’s win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, as the visitors came back from 2-1 down to win 5-2 thanks, in part, to a controversial call.
Let’s go against chronological order and begin with the major talking point from the match - Celtic’s penalty for a handball against Keith Watson. The decision is an absolute howler, make no mistake about that. However, you can see Craig Thomson’s train of thought.
As Watson turns to block Kieran Tierney’s cross, his arm comes away from his body, and at full speed you could be forgiven for thinking that he had put his arm out to block the cross. Remember, deliberate handballs don’t necessarily have to be a player intentionally putting his hand/arm towards the ball. If he puts his arm into an unnatural position or, in instances similar to this one, uses his arm(s) to make himself a bigger target, therefore making it more difficult for the ball to pass by, then it could be given as a foul.
But while we may have thought a penalty was possible in real time, we’re making that guess from the comfort of our homes and not impacting the game. Thomson guessing as an official costs St Johnstone a chance at victory. He is directly behind Watson’s body, and there is no way he can see the point of contact (Image One). None of the other officials have any sort of view either as they are all too far away.
Had the ball hit Watson’s elbow directly, then it would have been a much stronger shout for a penalty, since he definitely made his body bigger in the process of trying to block the cross. But as soon as it deflects off his hip, that is no longer relevant.
St Johnstone were also upset they didn’t receive a penalty prior to his incident as Danny Swanson went down under pressure from Scott Brown.
It definitely could have been a penalty, since it was really clumsy by Brown (Image Two). There’s a bit of upper body contact, but probably not enough for a foul. Brown then has a swipe at the ball and misses it, but there’s not much contact with Swanson either. There’s a definite delay in the midfielder going down, which doesn’t help his case. All in all, Thomson is within his right to let play continue.
Some would look at it and say it’s the type of foul you see given all the time outside the penalty area, but one which referees are hesitant to give when it’s inside the box. Though there’s some truth to this, it’s less to do with challenges having to be robust inside the box, and more because the referee has to be sure when giving a penalty. Making an educated guess is much easier when the perceived foul occurs 40 yards from goal, as it’s likely to have less of a direct impact on the result. This makes the aforementioned penalty decision all the more galling.
• Craig Anderson is a former fully qualified referee. He is also the man behind SPL Stats on Twitter.