It’s difficult to decide which caused the most comment after the Newcastle v ManchesterCity match, the mistake the referee made or the reaction to it by Newcastle Manager, Alan Pardew. What was the cause of his anger? After a skirmish in the City goal area the ball came out to Newcastle’s Cheik Titoe, who was a little way outside the penalty area. Three Newcastle players, slow to retreat, were still in an offside position. Titoe shot through the crowd of players, missing everyone although team mate Yoan Gouffran had to jump out of the way and the ball sailed into the back of Joe Hart’s net. It seemed to be a wonder goal, putting Newcastle on level terms.
The referee, Mike Jones, did what all good referees do before heading back to the centre circle when it seems a goal is scored, he looked at his assistant referee. Most referees give their assistants instructions that if you agree with the goal, turn on your heels and walk or run back up the field. If however you think there is a problem, then stand still and I will come over. That is exactly what Mike Jones did. We will probably never know their conversation but it was sufficient to make Jones disallow the goal.
What could have been his reason? Gouffran was in an offside position and if the ball had touched him, even accidentally, he would have been given offside but the assistant didn’t raise his flag, perhaps he wasn’t sure if that had happened. The replay showed that the ball missed Gouffran, who had jumped out of the way. There is another possibility, which could also explain why the assistant referee didn’t flag but got the referee to talk to him. The offside law says that a player in an offside position is penalised if he interferes with an opponent. This can be done in two ways and the first of these is by preventing an opponent from playing the ball by clearly obstructing his line of vision. This is a difficult decision for the officials. The assistant referee will be in a position to judge that the player is in an offside position but from where he is on the touchline, he can’t tell whether he is in the goalkeeper’s line of sight. The referee on the other hand should be in a position to tell whether the offside player is blocking the opponent’s view. The assistant doesn’t flag but indicates to the referee that they need to talk. This perhaps was the discussion that the two officials had at Newcastle and the referee decided that Gouffran had blocked Joe Hart’s view. From the replay showing the referee’s position however, that is difficult to believe.
The bizarre thing is that if it had happened last season, Jones would have quite easily been able to justify his decision. Although the offside law hasn’t been changed the interpretations have. As well as obstructing the opponents view, it previously said that interfering also meant ‘making a gesture or movement that could deceive or distract the opponent’. He could have considered that Gouffran distracted the goalkeeper, which is what Hart claimed. That clause was deleted and it now reads simply ‘or challenging an opponent for the ball’. I said a couple of weeks ago, sometimes law changes take time to filter down and at least two national dailies were still quoting the old interpretation. However this is not true at the top, I know for certain Premier referees met to discuss the change prior to the start of the season.
Alan Pardew had a justified complaint; but went the wrong way about making it.