How the Premier League works – and why Man Utd’s flappy keeper could be bad news for West Ham

Collision course - Andy Carroll hurtles into David De Gea

Collision course – Andy Carroll hurtles into David De Gea

Manchester United are one of the top clubs in the world. They’ve won 19 league titles, 11 FA Cups, lifted the European Cup three times and are currently running away with this season’s Premier League title. Last season’s turnover was an eye-watering £320million and they consistently sell out their 76,000 ground at Old Trafford. In contrast, newly promoted West Ham United have won three FA Cups, the now defunct Cup Winners Cup once and er, that’s it. Historically agreed to play “attractive football” they are hoping to move into a bigger financial league with an agreement in place to rent the Olympic Stadium in nearby Stratford.

For all their resources the Reds have a long-standing problem attracting good goalkeepers. The gaps between the eight-year reign of the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel and six-season spell of Dutch Master Edwin van der Sar have been filled by a series of very ordinary replacements. Current No1 David De Gea has put in some excellent performances since signing from Atletico Madrid but it’s patently obvious he struggles to impose himself physically at corners.

On Wednesday night West Ham played Man Utd at the Boleyn Ground with canny manager Sam Allardyce keen to use every advantage at his disposal. Crucially every time the home side won a corner they would set up a screen of Kevin Nolan, Winston Reid and Ricard Vaz Te in front of De Gea, crowding the goal area and restricting his already flimsy attempts at clearing the first ball. Striker Andy Carroll and centre-back James Collins then attacked firmly hit corners as a pair.

The tactic worked well with the visitors looking increasingly panicked on each set piece. So much so that on the stroke of half-time and as Carroll launched himself at a left-wing corner Reds defender and captain Nemanja Vidic felt he had to step across the mid-air attacker, bumping with his hip and sending 6ft 3in of Geordie wrecking ball hurtling into his own keeper who had just flapped a weak fist at the ball. Cue an animated Sir Alex Ferguson haranguing the fourth official as he demanded the striker be sent off. Despite almost no protests from his players the stream of vitriol from the manager continued as the officials walked to the tunnel.

As night follows day, so the next “challenge” from Carroll on De Gea led to a caution for the striker as the keeper managed to wrap his arms with the ball around the torso of West Ham’s No8. Fast-tracked referee Lee Probert has a history with Ferguson and has been heavily criticised by the manager in the past leading to the strong impression he had been “got at” by the red-faced fury over the interval.

Worse followed for West Ham as with less than a quarter of an hour on the clock and the Hammers leading 2-1 Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa’s shot deflected off both uprights into the path of an unmarked and offside Robin van Persie, who equalised.

Post-match both managers were in high dudgeon. Ferguson claimed, “They’re very, very aggressive” and with no apparent sense of irony, “You hope there’s a strong referee — I’m not so sure we got that” before commenting on Carroll’s challenge, “It’s an obvious red card, but the referee’s seen it differently.” For his part Allardyce was as angry with the linesman as Fergie was the ref even if the threat of a Premier League fine ensured he chose his words extremely carefully, “Their job is to give the offside decisions when they appear in front of them. This was a blatant one. There is no excuse. It is not a positioning issue. He is straight across the line on the last defender and can see Van Persie is two yards offside. When it hits the post and comes to him, he should put his flag up but doesn’t. He has taken a famous victory from us. To draw this game by default is a bitter pill to swallow.”

I see two outcomes from the game. First, an assistant referee has denied West Ham two points and gifted the Champions-elect one.

Secondly, it is quite likely over the rest of the season the inability of Manchester United’s keeper to deal with corners and the attendant publicity will lead to free-kicks, yellow cards and possibly worse going against West Ham by referees routinely cowed by the bigger clubs.

As for the “offside” goal? No, I don’t expect any consequence…

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About Terry Land

West Ham supporter, freelance journalist, photographer, gardener and in possession of pink/green political values. Wedded to the idea health and happiness are best enhanced by the consumption of industrial quantities of curry and chocolate...

Posted on April 19, 2013, in West Ham United and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. What irritates me the most about Lee Probert is that he’s obviously a dreadful referee, one of the worst of a bad bunch, and somebody who we have history with. Last season, he was in charge of the home game with Southampton, which saw two good penalties turned down and a host of phantom fouls given. He shouldn’t be an elite referee.

    • I couldn’t agree more. He was also the fool who as a fourth official sent Arsene Wenger to the stands at Old Trafford. It would appear the fast-track system is in tatters – an argument against those who advocate ex-players becoming referees…

  2. I feel you are being hugely unfair to Sir Alex in this article, Terry. Everyone knows how even-handed he is with regards to refereeing decisions. We all remember all those occasions during the Roy Keane era when he would hold his hands up after a game and say, “the ref got it spot on, it was a shocking challenge, he deserved his card and I shall be speaking to him after the game to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

    Also, how come Allardyce was threatened with punishment by the FA for criticising what he saw as the innaccuracy of the officials’ decisions (although admittedly no charges were eventually brought), whereas no similar threats were made against Ferguson for effectively doing exactly the same thing?

    • Agreed. To be honest I normally take little notice of the Fergie/Wenger/Mourinho invective and consider it part of the game. But when it’s as sustained as this round of bullying by Ferguson (he’s still banging on about today) and affects my club I at once worry for the rest of our season yet applaud our side for having played so well as to enter his hemisphere of interest…

  3. Spot on on this one, though I actually think De Gea is having an excellent season but still gets grief where Joe Hart seems untouchable, but that’s another story. I am glad Matt pointed out the irony that all the press concentrated on Allardyce’s comments yet totally neglected (while reporting them regularly) that Fergie should have been under equal risk of a charge. This to me shows that 1) most hacks are scared to confront him because of his years of intimidation and threats of exclusion and 2) that Allardyce probably survived a charge because the FA were perhaps conscious/scared that even a such a press just might ask that question if Fergie got away with it yet again. The only question that intrigues me is whether there is a form of corporate behind closed doors dictated response to FA/Premier League colleagues/minions by the powers that be, or whether it is simply some sort of mutual defence mechanism that kicks in instinctively with referees and others to respond in what simply looks like imposition from above. Don’t rock the boat syndrome.

    This is of course just a reflection of society as a whole, those with power and influence or simply represent a positive (if indirect) cash flow for a media outlet and succeed in not pissing them off will generally have far greater influence over events in their life.

  4. The fast track system was doomed from the start when Stuart Attwell was introduced to the equation. Now he is one horrendous referee. Although i was pleased to see Webb demoted to a league one fixture the other week, it was about time referees were made culpable for their mistakes. Having seen his performance so far today, i don’t think it will be too long before he is back down in the lower leagues.

    • Absolutely! The sad truth is, for all the money washing around in football there’s only a small pool of refs earning a comparative pittance.

      I’m not for a second suggesting any on the current Premier League list are corrupt – but if they were it’d be so easy to “get” at them wouldn’t it?

      Surely the long-term solution is a much larger pool of well paid officials all in competition with each other?

  5. Definitely. The elite section needs a shake up, this season has highlighted that with too much inconsistent refereeing from the likes of Webb, Probert and Atkinson.

    • My other big hobby horse is about giving referees the tools to do the job. From sinbins, to 10-yard penalties and video reviews to putting players “on report” I reckon football could learn much from rugby.

      However, it seems FIFA are so concerned about “progress” they effectively sabotage anything new, witness the mess they made of the 10-yard law. And what the hell are touchline officials supposed to be for – they never make a decision?

      Time for the powers that be to step off the silly notion that refs’ authority would be devalued by more assistance – the best thing I can think of to lend respect to officials is if they consistently get decisions right…

  6. I like it when folks get together and share opinions.
    Great website, continue the good work!

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