EPL refs deserve red for blunders
Outrageous tackles unpunished. Clear penalties not awarded. Wrong man sent off.
English Premier League referees found themselves in the spotlight in recent weeks, but for all the wrong reasons.
Sure, the men in black don't have it easy, what with the speed of the game these days and the footballing body's refusal to use instant replays to help them with decisions.
But that's no excuse for some of the appalling calls they have made recently.
And the criticism has been scathing and some may say, justified.
Photos of Stephen Ireland's nasty gash on the leg, sustained in Stoke's 1-0 home win over Hull City last Saturday, has been doing the rounds.
Just minutes before his injury, his poor foul on David Meyler went unpunished by referee Neil Swarbrick.
In what looked like an act of revenge, Meyler's Hull teammate Maynor Figueroa later raked his studs down Ireland's calf - an injury which required 10 stitches. Figueroa wasn't even booked.
Former Premiership official Mark Halsey said: "We saw another case of a referee losing his concentration in Stoke City's win over Hull City on Saturday as Neil Swarbrick missed the nasty challenge by Maynor Figueroa on Stephen Ireland which left the midfielder needing 10 stitches."
The match between Manchester United and Sunderland on the same day provided more fodder for brickbats.
United striker Radamel Falcao earned the penalty that eventually led to his side's opening goal.
But referee Roger East sent off Wes Brown instead of the perpetrator John O'Shea.
Singapore's former Fifa referee Francis Lee feels that assistant referees should be doing more during games.
He said: "The referee made a serious blunder sending off Brown instead of O'Shea.
"If the assistant knows that the referee has made an error, he must intervene immediately using his beep or even enter the field before the start of the whistle."
Another high-profile incident took place at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been claiming that there is a campaign against his team.
Nemanja Matic's dismissal in the 1-1 draw against Burnley on Feb 21 certainly earned the Portuguese some sympathy points.
Matic's retaliation on Burnley striker Ashley Barnes might have been excessive. But what about Barnes' horror tackle which provoked the reaction in the first place?
Former referees' chief Keith Hackett described Martin Atkinson's outing as arguably the worst refereeing performance in Premier League history.
Speaking on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, he said: "Mourinho was correct. Atkinson got four major decisions in that game wrong and of course the major one was Barnes and that horrendous challenge (on Matic). That is what referees are getting paid for, that's what a professional referee should be able to detect and punish.
"I can't recall such a bad performance."
When Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 away last month, the Saints also cried foul over what they felt were legitimate penalties denied to them by referee Kevin Friend. However, the Reds had grounds to feel the same way too.
In his column in the Daily Mail, ex-World Cup official Graham Poll wrote that there were two clear penalty incidents - one for each team.
He said: "(Filip Djuricic) should have had a penalty when he was brought down by Joe Allen with the home side trailing 1-0.
"Liverpool should have had a penalty of their own just after the half-hour mark when Jose Fonte clearly slid through Raheem Sterling after clipping the ball."
While Lee argued that it is the referees' job to get their decisions right, he also said that the officials are still human after all.
Recalling Diego Costa's stamp on Liverpool's Emre Can about a month ago, he said that it was unacceptable that the Chelsea striker was not sent off on the spot.
But he also added: "We must remember also that the referees don't have the luxury of instant replays.
"So, they will make mistakes, unless the day comes when we have three referees sitting in front of a TV, making decisions off the screen."
"I can't recall such a bad performance."
- Former referees' chief Keith Hackett described Martin Atkinson's outing in the match between Chelsea and Burnley as arguably the worst refereering performance in Premier League history
"It was a shocking challenge. It could have finished Stephen's career"
- Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Hull City player Maynor Figueroa's tackle on Stephen Ireland which went unpunished
"They have sunk to their worst performance level I can remember."
- Former Premier League referee Graham Poll after the festive period fixtures
FIVE RECENT BOO-BOOS
1 IRELAND'S GASH
Stoke 1 Hull 0 (Feb 28)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Perhaps Stephen Ireland asked for it. For he went in high on David Meyler first.
Ten minutes later, Maynor Figueroa planted his studs on Ireland's calf, resulting in a nasty open wound that needed 10 stitches. Figueroa didn't even receive a booking.
Then Peter Crouch scored Stoke's winning goal from an offside position to complete Swarbrick's miserable outing.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes said: "It was a shocking challenge. It could have finished Stephen's career.
"Why it is not a straight red, I have no idea. There has been a lot of talk of challenges recently but this was worse than any of them...
"The referees have got to get their act together. The officials are finding it very difficult to get the key decisions right."
2 MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Man United 2 Sunderland 0 (Feb 28)
Referee: Roger East
With the score tied at 0-0, Sunderland conceded a penalty.
To rub salt into the wound, official Roger East sent off Wes Brown, instead of John O'Shea who committed the foul on Radamel Falcao.
Sunderland lodged an official appeal after the game and Brown's red card was subsequently rescinded.
Said Sunderland manager Gus Poyet: "The referee told the players there were two fouls.
"One by John O'Shea and one by Wes Brown. I have seen the replay and Wes Brown did not touch anyone.
"He said he gave the penalty for Brown's foul but how can you give a penalty for something that didn't happen, never mind send the player off?"
3 NO PENALTY
Southampton 0 Liverpool 2 (Feb 22)
Referee: Kevin Friend
This was a game of several strong penalty claims but, in the end, referee Kevin Friend gave none. Based on evidence from replays, Friend should have awarded at least two.
Southampton would have felt hard done by as they should have had one at 1-0 down, when Filip Djuricic was floored by Joe Allen in the penalty box.
It kind of evened out eventually though, as Raheem Sterling's appeal was also turned down when Jose Fonte slid through bringing the Liverpool forward down.
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said: "I don't speak about favours but I expect when it's a clear penalty for the referee to blow his whistle, he should."
4 MATIC RAGE
Chelsea 1 Burnley 1 (Feb 21)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
A furious Jose Mourinho listed four incidents which he thought the referee erred, including two dismissed penalty appeals and the "criminal" foul on Nemanja Matic by Ashley Barnes which led to the Chelsea midfielder's retaliation.
The Serb got up after the tackle and shoved Barnes to the ground, and Atkinson didn't hesitate to show him the red card.
If Matic deserved to be sent off, then so did the Burnley player.
But Barnes, who got the ball but also caught Matic on the shin with studs showing, didn't even receive a caution.
Said Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "What could be the consequence of Matic's push for the other player (Barnes)? The consequence for Matic could be end of his career.
"The minimum you have to say is that it is a criminal tackle (by Barnes)."
5 COSTA STAMP
League Cup semi-final, second leg: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0, after extra-time (Jan 27)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Diego Costa stamped on Emre Can near the touchline while the Liverpool player was on the ground.
The incident was missed by referee Michael Oliver, but an independent regulatory commission later ruled that the act was deliberate and handed out a three-match ban.
Chelsea appealed against the suspension but the ban stood.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: "You don't want to see that. There's no need for it. You can easily land somewhere else without having to directly land on an opponent's ankle.
"It's disappointing to see that on the replay and he (Costa) was probably very fortunate the referee and the linesman didn't see it."