Looking at the replays, it probably should have been a red card. Stockley knows exactly where Tierney is. The two players engage in physical contact before the ball arrives and it seems a bit disingenuous to suggest he didn’t realise he was throwing his arm towards his opponent. The fact that he has previous for this type of foul doesn’t help Stockley’s case either. He’s been sent off three times this season, twice for the use of elbows on an opponent.
If you wanted to argue in Stockley’s favour, then you could point to Tierney’s body movement. The youngster does dip down a little at the last second, looking to get some extra spring in his jump as he seeks to head the ball clear (Image One, below). You could therefore say Stockley was just looking to throw his arm into his opponent’s chest, which would still be a foul, but not a red card. Then again, you could suggest Stockley anticipated, or even felt Tierney readying himself for the jump, and still had a good idea exactly where his head would be.
Bobby Madden would have to be 100 per cent certain Stockley meant to strike him around the face to produce a red card. What doesn’t help is the unusual nature of the player’s action. In such circumstances, you typically see players going with the sharp end of their elbow, even sometimes drawing it back before pushing it into an opponent’s face. You don’t usually see someone strike an opponent with an arm while using the rest of their body for momentum. Madden could have suspected it was deliberate, but in real time it’s hard to be certain, and just 21 minutes into a cup final he would have to be absolutely certain.
There’s little chance he could have been certain because of his positioning. He’s in the right spot, but both players are turning away from him when the contact is made. Replays show the linesman had a perfect view. But, again, it’s still a tough decision because of the unusual nature. Only when it’s slowed down can you really appreciate the force of the forearm. The view from the main stand camera may be fair distance away, but it’s a good angle to judge, and it looks completely innocuous on first sight*.
Height difference would also play a factor in the official’s thinking. A stray arm from a taller player is always likely to catch a shorter opponent around the face. In such circumstances, a warning or yellow card for recklessness would be the strongest punishment.
*Sky coverage missed the initial blow, but BBC’s Sportscene highlights showed the incident in real time.
• Craig Anderson is a former fully qualified referee. He is also the man behind SPL Stats on Twitter.