Magpies' ref justice leaves a nasty taste
Newcastle 0 Man City 2
Football should be about great goals, not poor referees. Football should be about savouring a wonderful strike from Cheick Tiote, a goal that would have stood comparison with many of the past gems witnessed at St James' Park from Jackie Milburn to Malcolm Macdonald, Andy Cole to Alan Shearer.
Football should not be about lamenting a wretched decision from a professional referee.
Football games like this should be about marvelling at the speed and touch enhancing some of the attacks from both sides, admiring the movement and finishing for Manchester City's opening goal from Edin Dzeko.
It should have been an occasion for sustained laughter at the half-hearted second-half streaker who wore an overcoat over his mankini and at Gallowgate's novel, if awkward, suggestion for what Joe Hart could do with his preferred choice of shampoo.
It should be, and will be amongst City fans, an opportunity to laud the resilience of the visiting players, the excellence of the agile Hart, the leadership of Vincent Kompany and a salute to the way Manuel Pellegrini has made City so attractive to watch. City, after all, have now obliterated last season's total of 92 goals in 52 games (including the Community Shield). Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo have made it 94 and counting so far in 33 matches this season.
But this was a game that left a nasty taste, that was scarred by Mike Jones' folly in ruling out Tiote's thunderbolt after 34 minutes.
From the moment Tiote caught the ball 25 yards out, slightly left of centre, the shot was going only one place: the back of Hart's net. City's keeper was in terrific form at St James' but even he would never have reached this strike. It flew past Hart before he could even flinch. The way City players' bodies momentarily sagged indicated they thought it was a legitimate goal.
Tiote certainly thought he had equalised. Believing he had scored a goal of huge quality and significance, Newcastle's captain took off towards the home dug-out to celebrate, pursued by his jubilant team-mates. Alan Pardew celebrated. Gallowgate celebrated.
But the fourth official, Martin Atkinson, was now appearing at Pardew's shoulder, whispering in his ear. Jones was running across to the assistant referee, Stephen Child, who had yet to raise his flag.
After a brief discourse, Jones signalled a City free-kick, decreeing that Yoan Gouffran, who was in the six-yard box stepping away from goal, had been interfering with play. Ridiculous. There was no contact and no possible way Gouffran was obstructing either Hart or his vision.
Ever since the frequently negative football of Italia 90, the authorities have tweaked the offside law to make it more attacker-friendly. The most recent change to Law 11, coming in 2005, essentially made it an offence only if the player in the offside position touched the ball, obstructed an opponent's ability to reach the ball or obstructed his "line of vision".
Like all officials, Jones was sent the additional "Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees''. Nowhere in the collection of clauses, and 13 diagrams of potential scenarios spread across pages 102-110, is there anything that could cast doubt on the legitimacy of Tiote's goal. Indeed, diagram 2 on page 104, is the closest to the Tiote-Gouffran-Hart situation. This rules that "an attacker in an offside position, not interfering with an opponent, (and) does not touch the ball.
The player cannot be penalised because he did not touch the ball.'' Gouffran didn't. Jones, who was briefly dropped to the Championship for allowing Sunderland's beach-ball goal against Liverpool in 2009, had messed up again in the North-east. Pardew now resembled a kettle left unattended on a stove, steam and noise filling the air.
Local fury at such obvious injustice sadly manifested itself in Pardew's disgraceful invective at a managerial peer: Pardew did show sufficient contrition and embarrassment afterwards to apologise for calling Pellegrini a "******* old ****". Foul and abusive language and ageism all in one pithy, filthy phrase; even by football's standards, that was quite a trick.
The League Managers' Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, may need to have a quiet word, negotiating peace between the high-profile pair.
However unpleasant Pardew's explosion, rather confirming ex-FA chairman's David Bernstein's criticism on managers' "terrible example" with their intemperate behaviour, there had to be some sympathy for his rising vexation. Playing a team of City's quality is difficult enough without refereeing howlers like Jones'.
They were already trailing. City took the lead within nine minutes from a sumptuous move, flowing via David Silva down the left to Aleksandar Kolarov and across to Dzeko, who thumped the ball first-time past Tim Krul. City were flying, Negredo cutting in from the left, forcing a corner. Silva and Samir Nasri were creating and tracking back, developing into even more all-round talents under the quietly inspirational Pellegrini.
Hart's confidence has been restored by Pellegrini's judicious handling of the England keeper's brief loss of form. Hart, arguably, looks an even better keeper now, showing his shot-stopping qualities with a save from Yohan Cabaye.
Then came Jones' aberration. Then came Pardew's rising ire. His players' natural adrenaline was now enhanced by anger. Tiote was immense, storming between the boxes, searching an equalizer and justice. Cabaye constantly looked to find gaps in City's defence. Newcastle fans added to the intensity, screaming abuse at Jones. Pardew waited for the referee at the break, continuing his dispute, while also, tackily, swearing at Pellegrini.
After an early scare when Krul denied Negredo at point-black range, Newcastle resumed their mission in the second period. Hart pushed away Cabaye's 20-yarder and then saved low from Loic Remy. Some of Newcastle's outrage poured into overly physical attempts to win possession. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa caught Nasri, his France team-mate, with a really nasty challenge that deserved more than a yellow card. Nasri writhed on the floor, waving for medical assistance which quickly arrived. City fear Nasri has damaged medial ligaments. This could be a blow for France as well as City.
Pellegrini's side showed their resolve. Fernandinho headed against Krul's bar. Then Negredo scored his 19th of the season deep into injury-time, rolling the ball home after getting a fortunate rebound off Krul. As City celebrated a huge win, another reminder of their confidence away from home, Newcastle still fulminated. Understandably. (© Daily Telegraph, London)