Before we begin it’s worth pointing out that the worst decision across the whole of Scottish football this season has already been decided. Even though there are over six months left, it has got to be No.1 because it’s the worst decision we’ve seen for many seasons, maybe even since Les Mottram’s infamous “ghost goal” call at Firhill way back in the early 90s. Which is ironic, because it occurred at the same ground, and at the same end!
Partick Thistle were facing Greenock Morton in a Ladbrokes Championship game when, following a corner, Kris Doolan had two cracks at a shot before getting his reward with a terrific finish on the turn which hit the back of the net (and let’s repeat that in case you missed it: IT. HIT. THE. BACK. OF. THE. NET.) before bouncing back out. In their disgust Morton booted the ball away, where it eventually landed out of play around the halfway line. The decision? Throw-in to Partick Thistle.
Somehow, despite a lengthy chat about it afterwards, presumably instigated by the referee who wondered why all these Thistle players were celebrating the award of a shy, neither official was able to figure out that Thistle had scored. They’d somehow managed to miss the whole “goal” bit and didn’t think to wonder why Morton had appeared so passive and glum when clearing a ball from inside their own six-yard box.
For this particularly list, the one involving only top flight clubs - because we could be here all year otherwise - there were more than enough contenders. As you’ve probably noticed, refereeing hasn’t been of the highest quality this season. Usually this writer is of the opinion that, for a country as small as Scotland, we actually do really well for officiating compared to nations of other sizes, and even those which are much bigger. We have, or certainly did have until very recently, more top referees than France in terms of those who are selected for Europa League, Champions League and international tournament matches. We only think ours are the absolute worst because, well, they’re ours.
However, this season they’re becoming increasingly difficult to defend. The howlers are racking up on an almost weekly basis. Wednesday night saw three bad ones, two of which have made the top ten, while the other - Celtic centre-back Filip Benkovic’s disallowed goal at Motherwell - misses out only because the competition was too strong.
The final list has omitted examples where the official(s) may not have had the best view, or a type of verdict that’s difficult to give in a split-second. Aberdeen being denied a penalty at Easter Road was one such ruling where, with the benefit of replays, it was easy to see that Lewis Ferguson got to the ball before Paul Hanlon before being tripped by the Hibs centre-back. On first viewing, because the ball changes direction, it’s hard to tell whether it was defender or attacker who got to the ball first. Ferguson’s team-mate Scott McKenna also missed out for his wild challenge on Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard because Bobby Madden was 20 yards away and had at least a couple of players in his line of sight.
10. Alfredo Morelos sent off against Aberdeen (5 August; referee - Kevin Clancy)
Just a few minutes into his side’s 2018/19 league season, the Rangers striker was sent off for an off-the-ball incident with McKenna. Yes, he kicked out at his opponent, but the rules (changed a couple of years ago) state that such instances should only result in red cards if they are considered acts of “brutality” and/or “excessive force”. Pundits tried to argue kicking the player off the ball should always be considered “excessive force” but that’s not the interpretation referees follow. It was a petulant swing of the leg and was in no danger of causing any harm, or even mild pain, to his opponent. On appeal the decision was downgraded to a yellow.
9. Non-decision as Allan McGregor’s kicks out at Kristoffer Ajer (2 September; referee - Willie Collum)
Another Rangers player, another kick out. This one should have fallen into one of the above categories by which these cases are judged. McGregor forcefully kicked his heel into the Celtic defender’s leg and, as an extension of this motion, dragged his studs down Ajer’s thigh. Incredibly, a panel of three former referees felt there was no case to answer for and he got off scot-free.
8. Gary Dicker sent off against Hearts (25 August; referee - Willie Collum)
Hearts were given a significant boost in their clash with Kilmarnock when, not long after the hour-mark, Dicker was shown a straight red for a tackle on Callumn Morrison. The challenge was clumsy, but replays showed the Killie midfielder was neither going in with both feet nor at particularly high speed. It’s barely even a foul as he appeared to play ball before man. It wasn’t the most clean-cut of tackles though, which didn’t work in his favour on the park or when the decision was reviewed by the appeals panel, who upheld his red. Regardless, it was the wrong decision.
7. Alfredo Morelos’ goal against Hearts (2 December)
Not the referee but instead the linesman on this occasion. For the most part, assistant referees deserve a degree of sympathy as most offside calls are ridiculously tight and, often, they have to be looking in two places at once. However, this was one of the easier ones to spot. It was a set-piece delivery and therefore easy to anticipate the forward pass, and there was a clear line of sight from the official to the Rangers striker, who was one of three Rangers players in an offside position.
6. Sam Cosgrove sent off against Rangers (5 December; referee - Steven McLean)
Fresh off missing a stonewall injury-time penalty for Partick Thistle at the weekend (it’s really not been the Jags’ year, has it?) McLean decided to harshly dismiss the Aberdeen striker during the first-half of his side’s trip to Ibrox on Wednesday. While it’s the kind of bang-bang play that can be wrongly misinterpreted, the most egregious part of this call was that Cosgrove was the player fouled. Both he and Connor Goldson had their feet up high contesting bouncing ball, but it was Cosgrove who got there first and the Rangers centre-back who kicked him into him. At least it evened up the wrongful red-card count for the season between the two bitter rivals.
5. Steven Naismith awarded penalty against Aberdeen (20 October; referee - Kevin Clancy)
Racing for a short corner in the penalty box, Naismith slipped as he looked to get in front of Lewis Ferguson and ended up falling into the Aberdeen midfielder before they both hit the deck. Unfortunately for the Dons, a penalty to Hearts was the reward. When players collide in an unusual manner it tends to make referees panic as they struggle to remember a previous example from their experience by which to judge the best course of action. Of course, the sensible thing would be to not give a penalty unless they’re sure. Clancy took a guess and guessed wrong.
4. Liam Gordon awarded penalty against Hearts (5 December; referee - Andrew Dallas)
Twice in the space of four days Hearts have been hampered by a poor refereeing decision, leaving manager Craig Levein so brimming with rage that he couldn’t come out with some quality patter after Wednesday’s draw at McDiarmid Park. On this occasion, ex-Hearts youngster Gordon performed a swan dive after feeling Peter Haring’s hand on his lower back and the officials bought it. To play devil’s advocate, from Dallas’ vantage point he wouldn’t have been able to judge the extent of the contact (minimal) but the linesman should have been able to tell him. Either he didn’t go to his assistant for advice or they both got it badly wrong.
3. Daniel Candeias sent off against St Mirren (3 November; referee - Willie Collum)
The Ibrox winger was shown a second yellow card for... well, nothing really. After celebrating Morelos’ victory-clinching goal against St Mirren, Candeias was approached by Anton Ferdinand who, a little aggressively, grabbed him around the back of the neck. Candeias, aware he was on a booking, brushed him off and immediately began pleading his innocence; it didn’t save him. Collum flashed yellow cards to both and so Candeias was sent off. After an appeal that was as much a PR stunt as it was a genuine attempt to get the player off the hook, it was confirmed that Collum had booked Candeias for blowing a kiss at Ferdinand. Is that it? Basic miming skills? That’s worthy of a red card? Collum is often accused of making himself the centre of attention but this really took the biscuit.
2. Jordan Jones awarded penalty against Dundee (6 October; referee - Steven McLean)
The decision that “cost Neil McCann his job”. Killie were able to leave Dundee with all three points thanks to McLean buying Jones’ tumble inside the box. Some may consider this a little high up the list, and yes, this writer will admit to perhaps being a little biased against this decision, having sat 70 yards away from the challenge in the Dens Park press area and known at the time it definitely wasn’t a penalty. Regardless, it remains a shocker. Even Jones didn’t think it was a spot kick, having immediately scrambled to his feet without turning towards the referee and, allegedly, telling home defenders after Eammon Brophy had scored that he’d gone down without contact.
1. Penalty given against Dom Ball in League Cup final (2 December; referee - Andrew Dallas)
It’s only fair that the man of the moment, Mr Dallas, takes the No.1 spot. It was extremely difficult to pick the champion of this list with so many strong contenders, but, in the end, this has been elevated above all others because it’s wrong on two counts and points the finger of blame at two officials. Chasing a 1-0 deficit in the Betfred Cup final, Aberdeen saw their chances reduced from slim to almost none when Dallas pointed to the spot after the ball struck Ball’s hand inside the penalty box. The problem being: it wasn’t inside the box, and he headed it down on to his own hand, which makes it very difficult to argue it was deliberate under any interpretation of the laws of the game. Scott Sinclair missed the penalty, so this will be confined to a footnote in history, but it deserves to be remembered for a long time.