Rolling footballers gather penalties from Moss

King Power Stadium

King Power Stadium. Photo by Ungry Young Man http://www.flickr.com

Imagine you had never seen a game of football before, and then you tuned in to Leicester v West Ham yesterday. You would be left feeling a little confused about the rules. I’ve seen a lot of football in my life and I was left utterly baffled by the performance of referee Jon Moss.

The job of refereeing is a hugely difficult one but Mr Moss gathered no credit as he attempted to assess the bodies rolling around him. Firstly, the Vardy red card: did he dive? He certainly took steps to ensure that the defender couldn’t avoid making contact with him and he knew that contact would knock him from his feet (more tax avoidance than tax evasion on the moral continuum).

I wouldn’t call it a dive and the sending off was very harsh.

Next, the penalty awarded to West Ham; Reid falls following a gentle tug from Leicester’s Morgan. A foul? Probably yes on the strictest interpretation of the law but how can Moss penalise that incident when every single corner in the game had produced at least as much if not worse.

The pushing and pulling and general nonsense that accompanies every corner these days should be stamped out but it has to be done by all referees awarding around four penalties per game in the first few weeks of the season. Choosing one incident at random as Moss did is a recipe for chaos and sure enough, he brought about a chaotic climax to the game.

A few minutes later at the other end, Huth goes sprawling in the box after very clearly having his jump impeded. Moss has a look and decides there’s nothing to see here. The rest of us can see a referee that has considerably less grip on the game than Ogbonna had on Huth.

Leicester continue a frenetic scramble for an equaliser and in the very last minute of added time, Schlupp runs into Andy Carroll and, as virtually any man would after running into Andy Carroll, falls over. Moss points to the spot. I’d call it soft but that doesn’t really describe just how lacking in firmness the decision was: it was softer than a blancmange left in front of the fire for ninety minutes.

Moss had clearly reassessed some of his earlier decisions and reached the conclusion that he’d been unduly harsh on Leicester. Here he was restoring justice (and parity) with another incredible decision. Leicester fans left ecstatic and relieved. Bilic left with a rueful smile and a scratch of his head.

A defeat for Leicester could have been a hugely significant moment in the title race but a draw means that not too much momentum is lost. Tonight we’ll find out a lot about Spurs and how they’re dealing with the pressure. If they don’t win at Stoke, they are unlikely to be wearing Premier League winner’s medals next month.

Liverpool’s players still have the chance to claim a medal this season after their remarkable comeback against Dortmund in the Europa League. Yesterday’s 2-1 win away at Bournemouth was even more significant however.

Klopp fielded a young, inexperienced, and experimental team and yet they managed a more comfortable and convincing victory than the scoreline suggests. Liverpool’s first eleven is strong (albeit still in need of strengthening) but there’s doubt as to the depth of the squad. Perhaps some of that doubt is exaggerated.

Money needs to be spent to turn Liverpool into title contenders and Klopp is the right man to spend it. This Premier League season has been thrillingly unpredictable; just imagine what next season might be like with Liverpool resurgent under Klopp, Guardiola arriving at City, and the prospect of Mourinho at Man United.

Talking of resurgence, Rangers made a statement yesterday by beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi final at Hampden. The fallen Glasgow giants have completed their rise through the leagues and will return to the top division in Scotland next season after easily winning the Championship.

The hotly debated topic in Scottish football right now is how strong a force Rangers will be upon their return to the SPFL. Hearts have shown that the transition between the two leagues is not particularly onerous for a club with some resources. Celtic will start next season as title favourites but they can expect their old rivals to be genuine challengers.

Will Ronny Deila still be in charge of Celtic when the next Old Firm match is played? I doubt it. The Norwegian’s reign has been distinctly underwhelming and while he’s won the expected league titles (and is likely to do so again this year) his side’s failings in cups and in Europe have put him under severe pressure.

Celtic are on a decline brought about by consistently selling their best players and replacing them with lesser quality. It’s arguable the extent to which that is by necessity but the effect is dispiriting for supporters. It also means that any decent player at the club only expects to be there for a year or two before seeking greater riches and profile elsewhere.

It’s been a similar scenario of late at my dearly beloved Dundee United (with most of our better players ending up at Celtic). We lost the other cup semi final to Hibs and all we have to contemplate now is our impending relegation.

My first blog post of this year heralded forthcoming doom at Tannadice and so it’s coming to pass. I was a teenager at Tannadice the last time we were relegated, in 1995, and it was a sad, sad day. I took my son to his first ever football match there earlier this season and that too was a rather sad day – a dire 1-0 loss to Hearts.

But we football fans never lose heart for long and we’ll be back next season. Supporting a football club is like a marriage, it has to be for better or worse. Surely for we suffering Dundee United fans, things can only get better.

The return of the Old Firm

Rangers and Celtic fans. Photo by: Gregor Smith www.flickr.com

Rangers and Celtic fans. Photo by: Gregor Smith
http://www.flickr.com

‘Was that it?’ seems to sum up much of the reaction to the first Old Firm game in almost three years. Scottish football’s showpiece fixture returned with more of a whimper than a bang as Celtic brushed Rangers aside 2-0 in the semi final of the League Cup.

I didn’t see the game. On the day I checked the schedules of the sports channels here in Malaysia to see if it was being shown but it wasn’t. The game understandably generated lots of hype and coverage back in Scotland but perhaps the rest of the world has ceased to care very much, if it ever really did.

I didn’t miss much of a game by all accounts. Rangers apparently failed to muster a single shot on target and goals from Griffiths and Commons secured a very comfortable victory for Celtic. Scott Brown rather cheekily suggested afterwards that goalkeeper Craig Gordon “came out and caught a few crosses just because he was getting bored.”

The Hampden pitch came in for scathing criticism from all sides. Perhaps Ally McCoist should have been called in to tend to it since he’s on gardening leave. His successor, Kenny McDowall, resigned less than a month after stepping up from being McCoist’s assistant and is now serving his 12-month notice period. I suspect another Scottish garden will be receiving more attention soon.

I’ll be honest that from overseas it’s been rather difficult to keep track of the sorry saga of Rangers in recent years although I’m not sure it’s that much easier in Scotland. The revolving cast of characters battling for control of the club resembles some sort of tawdry reality TV show which occasionally features someone you might once have heard of.

Until this week, I was only confused about who was in charge in the boardroom but since McDowall suggested that he is expected to select the players recently loaned from Newcastle, it’s rather muddied the waters of who’s in charge in the dugout.

Rangers these days are a bit like a nervous bride the night before the wedding, checking off the list: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Many fans of other clubs have revelled in Rangers plight but I’m not one of them. The Glasgow giants have fallen a long way and they have been shockingly mismanaged at board level. Staff have been made redundant and supporters have seen their side demoted to the lowest tier of Scottish football, from which they are currently scrambling their way back up.

Of course Scottish football hasn’t collapsed in the absence of Rangers and Old Firm derbies in the top flight as some of the most pessimistic doom mongers were predicting. The New Firm – Aberdeen and my team Dundee United – have enjoyed something of a revival, putting themselves in a healthier financial position than they’ve been in for a long time and developing a string of very promising youngsters.

These two sides contested the other semi final and United will provide the opponents for Celtic in next month’s final (many congratulations to Jackie McNamara and the boys).

There’s no question though that Celtic and Rangers are the biggest clubs in Scotland and overall, the stronger they are, the stronger the game in Scotland is. It’s great to have a more competitive top flight and to have a genuine title challenge emerge from somewhere outside Glasgow (well, from Partick Thistle is ok) would be hugely invigorating for Scottish football. I’d love to say that Dundee United will do so this season but I doubt it and while I think Aberdeen have a bit more of a chance I’ll still be surprised if they remain on the tails of Celtic at Easter.

We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait for the next Old Firm game. Both sides are still in the Scottish Cup so another cup tie this season could happen. Rangers are unlikely to gain automatic promotion to the Premiership but I do fancy them to scrape back in via the play-off. If they do make it, the evidence of last weekend suggests that they still have a long way to go before they can consider themselves as firm as old.