Alan Pattullo: Red card or no red card? Refs' actions will differ

Insult was added to injury for those Motherwell fans who decided to watch Match of the Day on Sunday night rather than head out to drown their sorrows.

Aaron Ramsay goes down under the challenge of Burnleys James Tarkowski, but no red card was shown. Picture: Getty.

They were still trying to process Craig Thomson’s decision to penalise Cedric Kipre’s brushing of his arm against Scott Sinclair with not just a penalty but also a red card.

So it can’t have helped to see Burnley defender James Tarkowski giving away what was felt to be another soft penalty in a Premier League clash with Arsenal.

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At least Tarkowski’s contact was almost discernible with the naked eye, and he did have two hands on Aaron Ramsey’s back as a cross came in from the left.

But, interestingly, Tarkowski was not red carded by Lee Mason. He was not even cautioned by the referee. Perhaps Mason reasoned that it was so late in the match – the penalty was awarded two minutes into time added on – that it did not 

Mason might also have felt Ramsey was not denied a goalscoring opportunity, therefore no further action other than the penalty was necessary – strange, since the offence, it that is what it was, occurred on the edge of the six-yard box. Ramsey had an opportunity to score, just not a very good one, granted.

If there is room to manoeuvre, if the referee is permitted to employ some sound judgment, then it would make more sense to treat Kipre with some leniency, given that 52,000 and thousands more watching on television were only 59 minutes into enjoying what was, until then, a competitive football match.

Sending off the 20-year-old simply compounded the hurt felt by Motherwell. Thomson might as well have blown the final whistle there and then.

It sums up how football laws are interpreted so differently from pitch to pitch, never mind from country to country. Were the same sort of incident as the Kipre/Sinclair episode to happen when Motherwell and Celtic meet again tonight at Fir Park, who is to say referee 
Willie Collum will point to the spot? Perhaps not, given the outcry after Sunday.

And then, when Kevin Clancy 
referees the same two teams on Saturday at Celtic Park in Episode Three of this series, what might happen then were something 
similar to occur?

Referees need help of course, from assistants and elsewhere. In real time, Kipre might have seemed to impede Sinclair more than was the case. Just as in real time the Motherwell defender’s earlier sliding tackle on Moussa Dembele did not look as crude as it was.

But then the extent of contact was not the issue as far as Thomson was concerned. The crux of the matter is whether or not there was an attempt to play the ball.

As per new rules implemented by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) last year, a mis-timed tackle in a situation where there is potential for a goal to be scored should not incur a red card if there was an attempt to play the ball.

Incidentally, these changes are still in a review period, though are expected to be ratified at an IFAB meeting early next year.

These improvements, if that is what they are, are being driven through by those such as Marco Van Basten, Fifa’s technical director, and Zvonimir Boban, now deputy secretary general of the world football’s governing body. Former footballers, particularly former attackers like them, understandably prefer to see the offensive player protected.

A former referee yesterday offered some helpful advice for anyone challenging for the ball in dangerous areas and wishing to avoid the ultimate sanction if it goes wrong. If the ball is on the grass, as it was in the Kipre/Sinclair case, make sure the attempted tackle is too.

A flailing arm won’t invite sympathy from a referee, as the young French defender found to his cost.