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Behind the Whistle: A look back at some of the key decisions

7 February 2023

Behind the Whistle returns for another week, and as usual on-hand to go through a selection of key match decisions from the action in the Sky Bet Championship, Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two is former EFL and Premier League referee Chris Foy.

Although many decisions made on the field of play are of a subjective nature, ‘Behind the Whistle’ will give supporters of EFL clubs an insight into the decision-making considerations and also clarification of certain decisions to provide an understanding of how the Laws of the Game are interpreted.

A regular feature on following the conclusion of a matchday, Foy will be here to run you through some refereeing matters in the EFL.

Sky Bet Championship

Millwall 1-1 Sunderland AFC

Incident: Potential offside for Millwall goal

Decision: Goal disallowed (Millwall)

Whilst the attacking player in an offside position doesn’t touch the ball, the match officials have to make a subjective judgement and concluded that the attacker interfered with an opponent by obstructing the line of vision of the goalkeeper, therefore having an impact on his ability to play the ball.

It’s a really tough decision to make on-field at the time and involves input from both the referee and the assistant referee. They have to firstly identify if the attacker is in an offside position and then determine if he is in the line of vision of the goalkeeper. That requires a judgement to be made. In this case, I wouldn’t disagree with the on-field decision, which is a credible real-time interpretation.

Norwich City 0-3 Burnley

Incident: Penalty appeal (Norwich City) for handball

Decision: No penalty awarded

Handball judgements are subjective, and match officials need to consider a number of factors before penalising - for instance, if there is a deflection that changes the path of the ball, there are occasions where this needs to be taken into account.

However, in this case, whilst there is a deflection off the defender’s foot, this needs to be balanced against the left arm being raised and in an unnatural position, clearly making the ‘body bigger’, when the ball makes contact.

I would say the best outcome in these circumstances would have been to award a penalty.

Reading 2-2 Watford

Incident: Penalty appeal (Reading)

Decision: Penalty awarded (Reading)

In real-time, given the speed of the attack and the contact between the defender and attacker, it is difficult to argue against the decision of the referee.

Whilst there could be a discussion regarding which player initiated the contact, given the attacker has got the wrong side of the defender, I would tend to agree with the awarding of a penalty.

Sky Bet League One

Portsmouth 1-1 Barnsley 

Incident: Potential advantage leading to a goal (Barnsley)

Decision: Free kick awarded

I have some empathy for the referee here – he’s spotted the foul but slightly delaying blowing his whistle to see what developed before bringing the play back, if needed, would have been the best course of action.

He has blown the whistle thinking there isn’t an immediate advantage which I can understand, and once you’ve blown, you can’t continue. Officials don’t want to stop play unnecessarily and you see many examples of great advantages played every weekend but unfortunately this one didn’t work out, and no-one will know that more than the referee.

Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Plymouth Argyle

Incident: Potential offside (Sheffield Wednesday)

Decision: Offside given and goal disallowed (Portsmouth)

Similarly to the Millwall v Sunderland fixture, the attacking player in an offside position does not touch the ball, so a judgement has to be made as to whether the attacking player interferes with an opponent. A judgement that the attacking player should be given offside for making an obvious action which clearly impacted the ability of the goalkeeper to play the ball is correct in my view.

The match officials on the day decided on the outcome following consultation - something they are encouraged to do when different members of the refereeing team have key parts of the information that allow them to reach the correct outcome for the benefit of the game. Ideally the decision would have been made more quickly, but accuracy shouldn’t be sacrificed for speed, and ultimately the correct decision was reached.

I think it is also important to understand that the officials do not use the big screens in EFL fixtures to influence decisions – this was a decision made by the match officials themselves based on what they saw of the incident in real time.

Screenshot 2023-02-07 at 09.04.00.png

Sky Bet League Two

Newport County 2-1 Swindon Town

Incident: Potential offside for Newport County goal

Decision: Goal awarded (Newport County)

There are two potential offside decisions here… from the initial pass out wide, there isn’t a touch from the attacker in the centre, so the recipient of the ball is not offside, as he was onside when the ball was last played.

Following that, whilst very tight, the goal scorer is behind the ball when receiving it before scoring. It is always a difficult one at speed given the attacker is running past his teammate who is making the pass so it’s a very good decision.

Screenshot 2023-02-07 at 09.03.26.png

Salford City 2-1 Rochdale AFC

Incident: Potential penalty (Rochdale)

Decision: Penalty awarded (Rochdale)

There is contact between the attacker and the defender, but it doesn’t meet the threshold for a penalty to be awarded. Having the benefit of replays, we can see that the attacker is then pulling the defender to the ground by his shirt.

Ultimately, I believe play on – rather than a penalty – would have been a better outcome. 

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