Why the referee didn't send off Blair Alston against Hibs

The latest edition of Ref Review looks at Blair Alston's challenge on John McGinn during the second half of Friday's 1-1 draw at McDiarmid Park, a tackle which enraged the Hibs manager.

St Johnstone's Blair Alston fouls John McGinn. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone's Blair Alston fouls John McGinn. Picture: SNS

Neil Lennon called the challenge “reckless” and “cynical”. He’s right, but these are not red card offences in isolation. “Reckless” is even stated in the rulebook for what constitutes a yellow card offence.

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It would only be a red card if Alston was denying a “clear and obvious goalscoring opportunity” - which we can rule out, seeing as they were at the halfway line with other covering defenders - or if the St Johnstone player was using “excessive force” and/or “endangering the safety of an opponent”.

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Lennon did also state that he felt Alston was endangering McGinn’s “well-being”, in his words. If that was the case, John Beaton should have issued a red card. However, I don’t believe this was the case.

The St Johnstone midfielder leads with the arch of his foot while McGinn is cutting across him and doesn’t leave the turf, meaning he’s in control of his actions (Image One). This is very different to when a player is lunging off the ground with a straight leg and going right into the leg of another player with their studs. There is a significantly greater chance of the latter causing injury. Alston does catch his opponent quite high, just below the knee, but there’s little chance of this seriously hurting McGinn.

As for “excessive force”, the replays make it look like a textbook cynical foul. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, these are only punishable with a yellow card unless there is excessive force used. This is where you could make the case that Hibs were right to call for a red. While the manner of the challenge itself isn’t particularly dangerous, watching it again in full speed, Alston does clobber McGinn a little harder than he probably needs to do.

There was a similar case in a game about a decade ago between Celtic and Hearts when Stephen McManus was shown a straight red for cynically hacking down Andy Driver. In that instance the speed of the challenge necessitated an ordering off. There was a bit of edge to that one, whilst Alston’s only intent was to stop McGinn by any means.

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It’s a grey area call and one I believe John Beaton got just right. He could have sent off Alston, but we often deride officials for trying to ‘even the score’ after a red card has already been administered in a game, as it was in this case for Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano. Blocking out the wider context, Beaton didn’t believe this incident deserved a red and rightly called it as such.

There were also claims that Alston deserved to walk after a second challenge on McGinn, which again halted a Hibs counter attack. However, in this instance McGinn kicks the ground as he attempts to go past his player and Alston then collides with him (Image Two). It’s not reckless and, even though Hibs were on the counter, I wouldn’t say it was denying a promising attack. They were still deep in their own half with no obvious pass in which to release a player in behind the Saints defence. No card was the right call in that case.

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


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