Thursday, March 03, 2005

3 March 2005: Away

Taking a minor break from the mini-thesis work, it's worth reflecting on the predicament facing Harry's Saints.

No away wins in the league all season (although a touch unlucky at West Brom and, particularly, Arsenal), Saints had, before Tuesday's replay at Brentford, managed to be victorious on the road only at the fortress of Northampton Town (twice, bizarrely). The come-from-behind victory against the mighty Bees on Tuesday was hard-earned (especially without the extremely stoopid David Prutton) but gives Saints an interesting statistic as they face the prospect of a next-round match at home to Man United.

Saints are unbeaten at home since mid-September, and are in the quarter-finals of the F.A. Cup.

Looks good. Only problem is, they still need to win about five league games to stay up, which means either a dramatic upturn in away form (ie winning the odd match) or beating either/both of Man United and Chelsea at home in the league. Ain't gonna happen, is it? Is it?

Perhaps if David Prutton was playing, they'd have a chance. He's been given a ten-match suspension (compared with Paolo Di Canio's seven for an identical incident, and Jose Mourinho who was told it was ok to incite the crowd because he's manager of a big club so the rules don't apply to him). I'm not defending Prutton (he can do that himself, and I'm scared of him enough to not argue) but I will say this: Match of the Day on Saturday did NOT show the incidents which caused both the Prutton and Van Persie incidents. In the first minute, a disgusting tackle by Cygan on Camara around the edge of the Arsenal penalty area went unpunished - not even a free-kick. A few minutes later, right in front of the linesman, Prutton was clear through on the right wing and was hacked down - absolutely scythed - by Ashley Cole, in a tackle at least as bad as Prutton and Van Persie's later efforts. The linesman looked the other way and referee Alan Wiley, who had clearly eaten all the pies, was chugging along back at the halfway line and waved 'play on'. Prutton eventually got to his feet and remonstrated loudly with the linesman, and that was that: the referee had lost control of the game. Numerous incidents later (Saints were not awarded several clear free-kicks in the Arsenal half), Prutton and Van Persie both figured there were no rules today, so off they went, flying into tackles with as much ferocity as they could muster. As, it has to be said, did Viera, Quashie and the rest, and for the most part they got away with it. When Prutton was sent off, he pushed the referee, trying to get to the linesman who hadn't given the initial incident. (If you've seen the clip, perhaps you've been wondering why he was after the linesman.)

None of this, the Prutton and Van Persie incidents aside, was shown on MotD, which allowed Alan Hansen to say "the referee had an excellent game". Wiley didn't - it was the second-worst refereeing display this season behind Andy D'Urso's classic in August - and while Prutton fully deserves and will quietly serve his suspension, people need to realise that the referee actually brought the whole thing upon himself. Referees can do that, and often do, although not usually to the extent Wiley managed it on Saturday.

I'll say it again: I've no desire to defend or excuse Prutton's actions, but the referee and linesman should be held to account for their failure to apply the laws of the game, and the BBC should perhaps give slightly less biased coverage: Saturday's programme was pure spin to make Hansen look good, Prutton look psychotic (flew in for those tackles with no reason? Psycho!) and the referee look utterly innocent.

Jeff Gannon couldn't have done it any better himself.

No comments: