Why Alan Stubbs is wrong about Hibs’ handball penalty claim

Stubbs was not pleased with the decision making of the near side linesman. Picture: SNS
Stubbs was not pleased with the decision making of the near side linesman. Picture: SNS
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The latest edition of Ref Review looks at Hibs boss Alan Stubbs’ insistence that his side were denied a clear penalty in the Ladbrokes Premiership play-off quarter-final against Raith Rovers.

“The handball beggars belief, I’m afraid to say. Given the importance of the game, officials really shouldn’t be getting them wrong.”

This was the view of Alan Stubbs after the first leg of last night’s Ladbrokes Premiership quarter-final between Hibs and Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park.

The incident in question occurred when Fraser Fyvie and Lewis Toshney both challenged for a bouncing ball in Raith penalty area, down the right-hand side very close to the by-line. The ball comes up, hits Toshney in the arm (or at least appears to) and goes out of play. A corner kick is given.

In our opinion, this is an open and shut case, but not for the outcome Stubbs wanted. You see, this is not a penalty. In fact, of the previous (one | two | three) Ref Reviews that we’ve done, this is the most clear cut decision.

At first glance, we thought that Fyvie had an attempted cross into the penalty area blocked by Toshney’s arm, which would have had more of a case to answer for. However, if you look at the .GIF provided in this article, you can see instead that it’s actually Toshney who inadvertently knocks the ball into his own arm as he clears with his right leg. If you’re having trouble seeing it, focus solely on the ball. It makes a sudden movement to the right after connecting with Toshney’s shin before rebounding back to the left after it hits his arm. Fyvie is swinging his boot from right to left and Toshney isn’t across his opponent enough, meaning it’s highly unlikely this was a case of Fyvie playing it on to the Raith defender.

So what? We hear you ask. If it hits his hand, isn’t it a penalty? Well, no, it isn’t.

Handballs have to be deliberate to be worthy of a foul. That intent doesn’t have to be ‘I’m going to handle this ball’, but at the very least there needs to be something like ‘I’m going to make myself bigger to stop this ball getting past me’. This doesn’t apply in this case. If Fyvie had the ball under control, was a couple of yards away from Toshney and was about to cross, and then Toshney threw up his arms to make himself a bigger target, then it could be considered a foul. As it is, Toshney is just trying to boot the ball away and accidentally hits his own arm.

It’s unlikely the referee even saw the ball hitting the arm. The ball was in a common “blindspot” between the player’s body and the goal line - it’s always hard for refs to take up a position where they can see that. The linesman would have had a great view, and he’s the official Stubbs raged at, but as we’ve made clear he had every right to keep his flag low and pointed towards the corner flag.

• Craig Anderson is a former fully qualified referee. He is also the man behind SPLStats on Twitter.

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