Warning: this report of Newcastle 1 Burton 0 may focus heavily on one particular incident.
This evening was very good in one way, as it ultimately secured the win essential to pushing us towards confirmed promotion. It was also frustrating as it served as a stark reminder of the reasons that leaving the Championship can’t come quickly enough.
Many games at SJP this year have been stifling affairs, due to the opposition arriving and parking the bus. Burton Albion parked the tank.
The entire first half seemed to consist of United on the front foot but unable to break into the penalty area as Burton had given all their players the night off and stacked their box with nightclub doormen and shot putters, backed up by a colossal beanpole of a goalie.
Highlights of their rearguard action included a defender launching himself at a Ritchie thunderbolt like a presidential bodyguard, deflecting the shot away with his face with a sickening crump and two Burton players steadfastly refusing to pull out of a clearance header, thus running full-pelt into each other like Rocksteady and Bebop. Concussions all round.
After a half hour of frustration, the breakthrough finally came. Gayle got in behind the defence and was bundled over by a burly linebacker for a questionable penalty. We’ll take that, Ritchie confidently dispatched it to the corner and we were on our way.
Except, hang on, what?
The following five minutes saw the most ridiculous and confusing display of ineptitude I’ve ever seen from an official as the referee conducted a confabulation ensuing from his incredible decision to chalk off the penalty and award Burton a free kick. Social media saw theories abound that Ritchie’s run up had been illegal, there had been an off the ball foul, or an unheralded rule change was being employed.
None of the above. It utterly beggars belief, but professional referee Keith Stroud had given Burton a free kick for Gayle infringing on the penalty area before the kick was taken. A professional referee did not know a very simplistic rule of the game, that in these instances the decision is to retake the penalty.
This in spite of the comical sight of Mikel Antia following the clown around with an iPad that surely showed some official site stating the rule, while a lengthy discussion panned out between the ref, the linesman and the fourth official. Ludicrously, the decision was allowed to stand.
Almost immediately after the game ended a statement was put out by the referee’s union, the PGMOL, apologising for the gaffe and citing that Stroud was “upset”.
What a shame.
Stroud was neither brave nor contrite in the aftermath of this unbelievable ineptitude. I refuse to believe that the other two officials consulted (plus Antia’s iPad) did not combine to assure the ref that he had made a very, very basic error and the correct decision was to have the kick retaken. Burton would surely have grumbled but they would have known it was correct.
Instead, when surely faced with evidence of his wrongdoing, it seems Stroud chose to stick with his decision out of what can only be sheer bloody-mindedness in the face of facts. He was the man in charge and no rule book would be taking away his power. Afterwards, when the apology was issued, he did not face cameras or speak for himself, he hid behind a bland statement from the union.
I’ve heard former referee Dermot Gallagher come out and say this was “a lapse in concentration”, which is garbage because the lapse would have been addressed in the seven minutes of debate that followed and that Stroud will be “very upset”. Sorry, not having that.
You see, next month two teams will contest the Championship play-off final, a game grandly titled “the hundred million pound match” due to the rewards of even a brief stay in the Premier League. Said Premier League riches are also Newcastle’s goal, in a tightly contested automatic promotion race, so had this been costly to the pursuit it could literally have been a hundred million pound error.
The upset would have been on the emotions of the legions of Newcastle fans, the employees whose jobs were at risk and the associations across the city that feel the impact of United’s struggles. Not, I should emphasise, should the upset be on Keith Stroud, who will doubtless be free to ruin games across the country by August.
Remember, we are already running three points behind due to the shocking display of Steve Martin at Forest. This latest display could have knocked us off the top altogether in a season where the appalling standard of officiating has got me more than ready to leave the Championship behind.
I would raise the following issues with the FA: first, what retraining or punishment is due to Stroud? No one wants to see anyone lose their job but this is a lucrative and competitive profession and we can all guess what would happen if we made a £100million mistake at work. The ref should at least speak for himself to explain the stubbornness of sticking with the decision after his conference, thus perhaps ease concerns of clubs who may be subject to his control after he resurfaces.
Secondly, this is a cast iron example of the need for video referees to have power of veto over the on-pitch official, especially if they are subject to lapses of concentration. The lengthy stoppage for discussion completely fettles the argument that this kind of amendment would ruin the flow of the game. Surely this has got to be moved forward?
I realise I’ve gone bang off track but this is a colossal talking point in the midst of a very ordinary game. Fortunately, it was actually irrelevant in the long run, as for the second time in a week we were saved by our magic man.
After a frustrating half hour in which Darlow produced a point blank stop, Perez fired wide when through on goal and little else happened, Matt Ritchie again came to the rescue, cutting inside the plethora of defenders and curling an unstoppable right foot shot into the top corner. Relief, and belief that Ritchie will soon be the scourge of corner flags across the Premier League.
It was fairly comfortable thereafter as Burton had little to come back with. Fair play to Albion though, who have risen tremendously to be competing at this level. Despite the fact they nullified the game as a spectacle it was fair enough as a point here would have been colossal in the context of their survival effort, currently a reasonable four points above the drop.
This is thanks in the main to a week where they’ve been edged by Newcastle but mugged Huddersfield to extend our promotion gap to ten points, so Burton’s alright by me.
Six games to go, two wins required, maybe three. Madness abounds as always…but happy.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Burton 0
Newcastle: Ritchie 68
Possession was Burton 30% Newcastle 70%
Total shots were Burton 6 Newcastle 22
Shots on target were Burton 2 Newcastle 4
Corners were Burton 3 Newcastle 4
Referee: Keith Stroud
Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Atsu (Ameobi 89), Gayle (Murphy 90+1), Perez
Elliot, Gamez, Haidara, Gouffran, Hanley
(Referees Union issue apology after the game, read it HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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