Why the referee didn't award Rangers a penalty against Celtic

The latest edition of Ref Review looks at Craig Thomson's decision not to award a penalty to Rangers for Jozo Simunovic' challenge on Alfredo Morelos in Saturday's Old Firm game.
Alfredo Morelos goes down under the attentions of Jozo Simunovic. Picture: SNSAlfredo Morelos goes down under the attentions of Jozo Simunovic. Picture: SNS
Alfredo Morelos goes down under the attentions of Jozo Simunovic. Picture: SNS
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This incident really highlights the difficult job referees have because there is no right or wrong decision here. It’s all down to the interpretation of the official and some will disagree with others. Steve Conroy, former Grade One referee, told the Sunday Mail he believed it was a penalty. The not-so-ghost writer of these articles thought it was one as well. I, on the other hand, believe Thomson got the decision right. For me it wasn’t a penalty.

As he dribbles into the box, Morelos loses control a little bit and the ball goes ahead of him. At that stage, Simunovic sees an opportunity to win the ball, and goes to ground to make the tackle. Morelos then gets a touch to the ball, on the stretch, and Simunovic very quickly pulls out of the challenge at that point, and even goes as far as to withdraw his leg (Picture One). He is doing everything he can to avoid contact. Morelos tries to jump over Simunovic, but makes contact with him on the way.

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This is slightly hard to explain well, but for the important thing is that Morelos doesn’t have controlled possession of the ball. If he had it under control and Simunovic makes that sort of challenge, then there would be much more of a case for a penalty, but because the ball is getting away from Morelos it essentially becomes more like a 50-50 challenge where both players are attempting to get to the ball (Picture Two).

In preparation for this article, Mr Fowler gave an example of one player hurdling another to avoid contact, which Morelos does here, but having his progress impeded by the opponent. Like when a winger is tearing down the flank and a defender slides in front of him, impeding his progress and forcing him to jump over.

In such instances, the defender has made a reckless challenge, where he has gone for the ball and missed it. Simunovic’s actions could not really be described as reckless - he sees he isn’t getting the ball, and he withdraws from the challenge before he gets there. It isn’t a foul simply because the opponent can’t get past you, just as long as you are making a reasonable effort not to impede them, which Simunovic was doing by withdrawing his foot.

There was an slightly similar example involving Patrick Roberts and Ryan Jack just before half time. Roberts lets the ball get away from him slightly, which tempts Jack into the challenge, but Roberts still gets a toe to the ball first. Jack tries to pull out of the challenge, but still makes considerable contact with Roberts. Again, because the ball was getting away from Roberts, Jack’s challenge becomes more legitimate, and the fact he makes some effort to pull out means that I didn’t think it was a foul.

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


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• A fault meant an earlier version of this article went up without the follow up pictures. We apologise for the issue which should now be resolved.