Alan Pattullo: Man in the middle can't get away from fact that penalty call defined his game

NEVER mind how many he booked - just the five in the end - and never mind his intention to let the game breathe. When an assessment of Willie Collum's first Old Firm performance is attempted it all must come down to one thing: was it or was it not a penalty?

Collum even played a part in the build-up to the 66th-minute award, which hindered his ability to correctly call what proved the decisive moment in terms of the outcome of the game. His attempt to take evasive action after Kenny Miller's header - it failed, for the ball grazed his back - meant he was only just turning round as Kirk Broadfoot took a bad touch and then toppled over under a challenge from Daniel Majstorovic.

In actual fact, it was difficult to describe the Swede's part in the incident as a challenge, since he did not commit to the tackle. Broadfoot, however, took flight in the box, and Collum's view of the incident was compromised by the fact he was turning as it occurred.

Indeed, he might only have seen the final throes of Broadfoot's tumble, meaning he had to assume that Majstorovic had caught the Rangers defender. Replays showed that this was probably the wrong assumption to make, and Collum - who decided against consulting his assistants - must stand and fall by a call which overshadows an Old Firm debut of otherwise largely admirable competence.

Yet the fact that Collum was the subject of debate after the game as well as before it meant that it hadn't been the kind of day he wanted. The hope that he might shrink into the background was never a realistic one on such a highly-charged occasion.

As any good teacher knows, the key to a disciplined, attentive class is to crack down quickly on any silliness. Collum, who teaches religious education at Cardinal Newman High School in Bellshill, was given an early excuse to lay down the law when Anthony Stokes made one of many nonsensical challenges which littered the afternoon. His arrived in the opening minute, knocking Sasa Papac into the air. It led to am immediate yellow card for the Celtic player. The consequences were more drawn-out for Papac, who limped throughout the rest of the half and was substituted by Broadfoot at half-time. It could be said that Celtic paid a heavy price for Stokes' early recklessness, with Broadfoot, Papac's replacement, playing a central, and possibly slightly sly, part in the winning of Rangers' penalty, from which Kenny Miler wrapped up the scoring with his second of the afternoon.

Collum had wished for some help from the players but little flare-ups continued throughout the match. Glenn Loovens might have been in trouble after raising his hands to both Kyle Lafferty and Miller.

Collum, however, chose to defuse the situation. The players may have had the best intention to aid the referee prior to the match but when Collum's whistle blew they were straight into game-mode. This meant that they were only interested in gaining an advantage for themselves and their own team.

David Weir made a noble attempt to lend the referee, nine years his junior, a hand. "That's four times" he screamed at Collum after what he felt was yet another illegal challenge from Gary Hooper. He held up four fingers to aid the referee's interpretation of what he was saying, but this, clearly, was not the help Collum had hoped for. He elected against booking the striker, but yellow-carded Lee McCulloch early on for a fairly high challenge on Emilio Izaguirre.

This presented Collum with a problem when the same player later sent Georgios Samaras crashing to the ground with a nudge as the striker galloped towards the Rangers box. He decided against booking the Rangers player, who would then have had to see red.

Gary Hooper went down in the box under a challenge from Weir, but this was rightly dismissed by Collum. The referee then saw the same player's push on Whittaker in the run-up to Joe Ledley taking a tumble, following a late tackle by the Rangers full back. Having already blown his whistle Collum was spared an early penalty call.

It was fast and furious, of course, and Collum, who lists his main hobby as running, was at least able to keep up with the pace of the match. Rarely has the spotlight been placed so squarely on the referee, but many of the Celtic side could have empathised with any debut nerves felt by Collum. Six members of their starting line-up were experiencing an Old Firm match for the first time, and they too were making mistakes. Fraser Forster's poor clearance led to Rangers' second goal, which Miller lashed in after pouncing on Majstorovic's attempt to clear from Maurice Edu. Juarez, too, over-egged a shot/clearance when in a good position for Celtic, as the minutes ticked away.

But there was only one talking point afterwards, and that was the penalty which sealed Rangers' win. Collum seemed utterly convinced of it, pointing with great purpose to the spot. But if he hadn't properly seen the incident then Neil Lennon could rightly feel hard done by.

However, the Celtic manager might also reflect on the wisdom of adding to the pressure placed on the young referee in his pre-match press conferences. Among the many views expressed by Lennon on the subject was a hope that we were not having to talk about him afterwards. Rather than ensure that Collum thought twice about giving contentious decisions against a team already suffering from the impression they are persecuted, Lennon only tempted fate.