The latest edition of Ref Review looks at Scotland’s win over Slovakia and the decision not to award the hosts a first-half penalty for a foul by Robert Mak on Kieran Tierney.
At first glance it seemed like shoulder to shoulder contact, with the Slovakian just being stronger than Scotland’s makeshift right-back. However, looking back at it, there’s little doubt this should have been a penalty.
Mak definitely moves across Tierney and there was more than just a hint of a barge. The BBC’s Tom English thought it may not have been a penalty because he felt there wasn’t enough space between defender and attacker, and that Mak didn’t make any motion to foul.
I disagree. After Tierney pushes the ball past his opponent, Mak takes another three steps toward him without trying to change his direction (Picture One). Once he’s about to make contact with the Celtic full-back, he turns his body slightly so it appears that they’re both running in the same direction, and he’s just won the battle of strength. In actuality, he’s just ran into him. It even appears that Tierney has widened his running stride to try and avoid Mak.
Then there’s the trip. It might not have been noticeable to those judging the upper body contact, but Mak definitely trips Tierney with his left foot (Picture One, right frame), which comes across the opponent. It’s a careless challenge. He runs at his opponent at speed, doesn’t perceive Tierney’s actions, and then trips him up. It’s definitely a foul and definitely a penalty.
Some wondered whether this could have been ruled as obstruction and an indirect free-kick awarded inside the box. While this sort of foul still remains in the rulebook, you never see them given in the penalty area any more. They’re just too hard to judge. There has to be minimal, almost negligible contract, which doesn’t apply here. Mostly in such situation where a defender gets in the attacker’s way, thereby obstructing, the referee will either give a penalty if there’s enough contact or let play continue.
So why did Milorad Mazic fail to give the correct decision on this occasion? He does have a clear view of the incident (Picture Two) but perhaps from the worst angle. He’ll see the pink shirt cross in front of the white shirt and then go over. He’ll be looking for upper body contact, of which there is no obvious push, and probably wouldn’t have been able to detect the trip, as it was more a case of their legs becoming entangled rather than Mak sticking a leg out.
It’s also a poor angle to judge the distance between the players when Tierney first moves to push the ball past the Slovakian. All in all, it’s easy to see why he didn’t think it was enough for a pen, given the information he had.
The assistant on the near side would have had a better idea about the extent of the contact. Yet, because he’s also side-on, judging the distance would have been tricky, and he probably didn’t feel strong enough either way to overrule the man in the middle.
• Craig Anderson is a former fully qualified referee. He is also the man behind SPL Stats on Twitter.