By Calvin Palmer
In terms of clear cut chances Liverpool should have left the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over Stoke City. Liverpool dominated most of the game but possession does not win football matches. Goals do.
Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker, uncharacteristically failed to capitalize on two occasions with the goal at his mercy.
The most glaring miss by Liverpoool, however, fell to Jordan Henderson when, on the hour, a pass from José Enrique put him clean through. In a one on one situation with Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, the £20 million signing from Sunderland had his first shot blocked by the keeper. The ball rebounded back to Henderson and his second attempt was similarly blocked by Begovic . Henderson’s third attempt to fire home was blocked by defender Matthew Upson.
Henderson again picked up the rebound and passed the ball to Charlie Adam whose first shot cannoned off Ryan Shawcross and then Adam’s second shot was saved by Begovic.
In some ways it was the stuff of a Benny Hill comedy sketch and on a par with the comedy of errors that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s NFL game between the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. If the action of the last quarter had appeared in a movie, most people would have said it was far-fetched and unrealistic. Sometimes life surpasses fiction.
It all began when Jason Witten almost gave the Cowboys another touchdown but was stopped on the one-yard line. Dallas looked odds on to regain the lead but quarterback Tony Romo fumbled as he tried to score a touchdown.
The comedy was not exclusive to the Cowboys. Moments later Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked and stripped of the ball. Dallas failed to capitalize and two successive penalties pushed them ten yards back and they were forced to punt.
Joe McKnight blocked the kick and the bouncing ball was scooped up by Isaiah Trufant who ran in the touchdown from 18 yards to bring the scores level at 24-24.
With 59 seconds remaining, Dallas had time for a winning a drive but on the first play Romo served up one of his obligatory intercepts, which set up Nick Folk’s 50-yard winning field goal. That kick must have been all the sweeter for Folk, released by the Cowboys in 2009.
The Cowboys trailed for the first time in the game and the heart had gone out of them. Romo suffered further ignominy when he dropped the ball at the snap in the dying seconds of the game.
In truth the Cowboys should have won much in the same way as Liverpool should have won against Stoke.
But the contrast between post match reactions of the coaches of these losing sides could not have been greater.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said: “We played through the success and adversities of football and kept competing. We clearly need to play better at the end to win the ballgame.”
Liverpool coach Kenny Dalglish chose to target the standard of refereeing in the Premier League.
Dalglish said: “We would like to be respectful to the referees but more importantly is them having respect for my club, and if I feel we’re suffering in any way, then I may need to go the same route as some others and see if I can gain some benefit from that.”
Dalglish’s remarks were sparked by a penalty being awarded by referee Mark Clattenburg to Stoke when defender Jamie Carragher hauled down Jonathan Walters inside the penalty area and Liverpool being denied a penalty when a cross from Suárez hit Upson’s upper arm as he made the block.
But the rules of the game state that players other than the goalkeeper may not deliberately handle the ball with their hands or arms during play. The keyword is “deliberately”. A foul for hand ball should not be awarded if a player is instinctively trying to protect himself from injury or the player did not deliberately touch the ball but the ball hit his arm and he did not move the arm toward the ball.
Upson would have needed to sever his left arm in order to avoid the cross by Suárez hitting it and, therefore, the referee made the right decision. It was ball to hand.
Dalglish can have no complaints about Stoke’s penalty. Carragher clearly held Walters round the waist as the Stoke striker tried to get past him. Walters converted the spot-kick for the only goal of the game and Stoke gained the three points to go fourth in the Premier League.
Apparently some reports claim Stoke’s Rory Delap handled in the area but the TV coverage showed no replay of that incident, which would imply it was a non-issue.
I can well understand Dalglish’s frustration but he has been in the game long enough to know that these kinds of results occur. To vent his frustration on the standard of refereeing serves only to deflect the blame from the failure of his own players to put the ball in the back of the net.
Maybe the Premier League should follow the NFL and have instant reviews of what Dalglish calls contentious decisions. The technology exists but the mindset to introduce it does not. Even if it were introduced, I have the feeling managers would still rant and rail against the decisions handed down. Such is the nature of football.