Why the referee awarded Ross County a penalty against Celtic

In the second part of today's Ref Review, we look at Don Robertson's decision to award Ross County a late penalty against Celtic and how the official got it so badly wrong.

Craig Gordon, right, approaches referee Don Robertson at full-time. Picture: SNS
Craig Gordon, right, approaches referee Don Robertson at full-time. Picture: SNS

You already know this is an absolute shocker of a decision. There is no contact whatsoever. It is an undoubted dive from Alex Schalk and it’s very likely he’ll be punished with a two-match ban for simulation.

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What Don Robertson has done wrong is that he’s anticipated the contact from Erik Sviatchenko. He’s saw the Celtic player coming back to his opponent, going to stick his leg out and then he’s saw the County player hit the deck. He’s then given the decision, despite not actually seeing any contact from the Celtic defender. He’s just assumed that it happened, which is a big mistake. In these instances, even in dead rubber games such as this one, a referee should not be giving a late-game penalty on a hunch.

Image One

Some have wondered how he couldn’t tell it was a dive, seeing as it was so obvious. The main stand camera angle clearly showed it was a dive in real time, and that’s the view the subscription paying public got to see. If the man sitting on his couch knows, why doesn’t the referee?

Well, just because you’re literally hundreds of miles away, doesn’t mean you won’t have a better view. Certain angles can be deceptive, and in this instance it could be the case that Robertson was tricked into seeing something that wasn’t there.

From his angle, with Schalk and Sviatchenko both side on, he would have been unable to determine the gap between both players. Image One (above) is not quite the reverse angle, as it’s about 45 degrees too far to the right, but it gives you a better idea of what the referee is looking at from the other side. The players look much closer together than they actually are.

The linesman should be able to tell, but there’s a chance his view isn’t the best either. With the ball having gone down towards the byline before being cut back, he’s not looking at it side on, where he would be best placed to judge. His view might be partially blocked by the body of Sviatchenko.

Image One

Furthermore, the assistant referee may have had a better idea it was a dive, but due to his angle probably wasn’t sure and didn’t want to overrule Robertson. From Schalk hitting the deck to the whistle going there is only around one second, which indicates Robertson made the call without any consultation. In that circumstance, it would take a brave assistant to overrule the leading match official in case it later transpires he’s got it wrong.

Added to all of this is Schalk’s dive itself. Without meaning to praise a blatant act of cheating, the Dutchman times his tumble perfectly as he goes past Sviatchenko, and even flicks his left boot inward (also visible in Image One), like it’s been forcefully pushed in that direction by that of an opposing defender. Schalk has conned Celtic but he’s conned the referee as well, and no official wants to be made to look a fool by any player.

Others have claimed the fourth official or far side linesman should have intervened, but there’s no chance they would. Even if their view is clear, they’re too far away from the incident.

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