Why Rangers’ Allan McGregor was lucky to escape a red card against Celtic

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In the latest edition of Ref Review Joel Sked asked former fully qualified referee Craig Anderson about the contentious decisions from Sunday’s Old Firm game, namely the incident involving Allan McGregor and Kristoffer Ajer, as Celtic ran out 1-0 winners.

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Rangers' Allan McGregor kicked out at Kristoffer Ajer during Sunday's Old Firm clash. Picture: SNS/Craig Williamson

Rangers' Allan McGregor kicked out at Kristoffer Ajer during Sunday's Old Firm clash. Picture: SNS/Craig Williamson

The aftermath of the Celtic’s 1-0 win over rivals Rangers on Sunday was dominated by refereeing decisions.

Willie Collum was appointed to oversee the game despite coming under criticism from Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke the previous weekend for his decision to send off Gary Dicker for a challenge on Hearts winger Callumn Morrison.

Killie, who were defeated 1-0 by Hearts, saw their appeal of the red card rejected with Clarke issuing a statement regarding the decision with one particular part telling.

“As soon as I heard the news,” Clarke wrote, “very early in the week, that the referee in question had been appointed to take charge of the first Old Firm match of the season before our hearing had taken place I, and many other people, knew that the decision would go against Kilmarnock. There is no doubt that the perception of most and certainly of our club is that the hearing was pre-judged by this early appointment.”

Collum was in the news and under pressure from the offset and it continued after the game with pundit Michael Stewart joining Rangers manager Steven Gerrard in criticsing the referee.

Gerrard was vexed by Collum’s failure to award a free-kick to Ryan Jack in the build-up to Celtic’s winning goal with Tom Rogic coming away with the ball. He claimed the fourth official was shouting “foul” repeatedly.

Craig Anderson said: “For the foul on Jack, I think it would have been quite soft. Sometimes you see them given, but I didn’t think it was a bad decision not to.”

Collum was much better placed than the fourth official to make a decision, while former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher told Sky Sports the foul occurred on Rogic.

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The more obvious and perhaps bigger call was that of Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor. The Scotland international was Rangers’ best player throughout, producing a range of excellent saves to keep the score respectable.

However, in the first half he kicked out at Celtic’s centre-back Kristoffer Ajer. The Norwegian had fallen on top of McGregor as they contested a cross ball and the goalkeeper responded by planting his studs into Ajer’s side.

It is not the first incident of a player kicking-out this season. Alfredo Morelos had his red card against Aberdeen rescinded, while Steven Naismith didn’t face disciplinary charges for a clash with Celtic’s Jonny Hayes.

In the IFAB Laws of the Game published for season 2018/2019 it includes the passge: “The Laws embody the unacceptability of unsafe play in their disciplinary phrases, e.g. ‘reckless challenge’ (caution = yellow card/YC) and ‘endangering the safety of an opponent’ or ‘using excessive force’ (sending-off = red card/RC).”

Anderson said: “McGregor was lucky to stay on - I think that would have been a red if the officials had spotted it. He has been involved in similar incidents in the past, for example (Motherwell’s Peter) Hartley last week, but has usually been clever enough to allow plausible deniability.

“That didn’t exist on Sunday - he made a clear motion to kick out at Ajer, and unlike the Morelos one, I thought that one had excessive force.”

With the ball having been cleared it would have been easy for Collum to miss the incident. Yet, footage from the game shows the referee staring at the incident. Yet, with other players exiting a crowded box he may have not had a clear view of the kick.

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