To send off the St Johnstone striker, Willie Collum would have needed to be convinced that MacLean had tried to punch Tierney, as the rules insist that a player must “use or attempt to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent” to receive a red card for violent conduct.
Not only does MacLean not strike Tierney, as the main stand camera angle shows, he isn’t anywhere close to making contact with the Celtic defender. This is clear to see from the viewer’s perspective despite the camera being far away from the players and not even at the best angle.
Taking that into account, along with the fact the two were in physical contact with each other before MacLean swung his arm, we can only reason that MacLean could have punched or elbowed Tierney if he wanted to. There’s little evidence to suggest he tried to strike his opponent and missed.
The confusion comes from Collum’s decision to book MacLean. If the referee thought he was trying to hit Tierney, shouldn’t it be a red card? Well, yes, but Collum doesn’t believe MacLean was deliberately trying to strike the defender. Instead, he’s booking the veteran for attempting to intimidate his younger opponent. Though MacLean’s not trying to hit Tierney, the way he wrestles his arm away is done in an unnaturally aggressive manner. This is enough to justify a yellow, but not a red.
In order to avoid a potential flashpoint, Collum - who had a decent view of the incident and appeared to be looking right at them - was quick on the scene with the yellow, thereby diffusing the situation.
• Craig Anderson is a former fully qualified referee. He is also the man behind SPL Stats on Twitter.