Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tottenham 1 PAOK Salonika 2 or Does Football Really Want/Need Six Officials?

A game worthy of a place in Greek mythology ,Salonika's wiki entry already proclaims "The club gained worldwide fame after they defeated European and English superpower Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane".Well maybe that's slightly over stating the case,but there's no doubt that PAOK performed heroically on Wednesday night and overcame the odds against a less than full strength Spurs side.The match was more chaos theory than quality,but it was littered with a couple of major game changing incidents and so let's look at the Expected Points graph to try to make sense of what did and didn't happen.

0-2,Red Card and Penalty awarded,Stafylidis (PAOK),37'
1-2,Penalty Scored,Modric,38'

Spurs made nine changes from the weekend's EPL action and played like strangers for the first quarter of an hour.PAOK's 2 goal lead was fully deserved and for once Gomes was largely blameless.However,Spurs had enough quality and experience on the pitch and on the bench to be far from a forlorn hope.PAOK were certainly favourites,but not massively so.

The first controversial decision came in the 37th minute.Stafulidis blocked the ball on the line with his chest initially and finally with his arm.The ball went from chest to arm almost instantaneously and there was no intent on the part of the defender.The award of a penalty and a red card looked harsh,but the decision was rendered moot before the ref had blown his whistle when Defoe was clattered from behind as he tried to turn the loose ball into the net.Overall the correct ultimate decision,for the wrong incident resulting in the wrong player being dismissed.The award and red card alone were enough to propel Spurs back to favouritism to take more points on average from the game and Modric pushed their supremacy higher still by rolling the spot kick to the keeper's left a split second after he had committed to diving to his right.

Inevitably,Spurs then enjoyed lots of possession and opportunity to equalise,but a combination of packing defence and more desperate and speculative shooting meant that 10 man PAOK stayed in front on this occasion.It also showed how teams tend to see their shooting efficiency decline when they are behind.(See here).By the time the second major incident occurred,a combination of PAOK's resolute defending,Spurs' wayward finishing and the clock had allowed the Greeks to reclaim favouritism.

The timeline of the incident is fairly clear.In the 78th minute,Conteras cleared Falque's shot off the line,he was then fouled by Defoe as he completed the clearance and was prone,injured and playing Defoe onside just in front of the goalline when sometime later the ball was returned into the box and Defoe "scored".Initially the referee seemed happy to allow the goal,but after justified complaints from PAOK and the extremely belated intervention of the extra official behind the goal he awarded a free kick to the Greek side.The decision was almost certainly correct,too many forwards have escaped punishment for late lunges on defenders that would likely result in a card if the roles were reversed,so it's nice to see parity returning to that part of the game.But the mechanism to get to the decision was wretched.

The more people charged with making a judgement call on the same incident,the more opportunity for such a chaotic mess to unfold.If the referee sees an incident and doesn't deem it a foul,should he really be expected to cede to a 5th official who saw the same incident and thought it was a foul? A referee and his assistant differing in their interpretation of incidents is really the maximum amount of potential for farce the players and the paying customers should be expected to put up with.Some sports need a host of officials.The NFL for example needs one official to watch every eligible receiver on every play,football/soccer should stick with three.One sole arbiter and two assistants.On this occasion the correct decision was probably made,but at the cost of turning the match into a protracted pantomime where the audience had little chance of comprehending what had just taken place.

For the record if Defoe's goal had stood Spurs would have averaged just under 2 points from that drawing game position compared to PAOK's half a point.A night to remember,but not for outstanding football.

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