SAFC: The Poster Child For TV Replays?
Sunderland currently have a four point gap from the relegation zone with three games to play. I am fairly confident of us staying in the Premier League, but the question is this: why are we in this position?
We came into this season with the hope of a comfortable top half finish. We had signed players with real Premiership quality in the summer, spending a lot of money in the process. I was a little concerned with the depth we had defensively, but our first choice XI was certainly good enough for the top half.
So why are we in this position? We have been very inconsistent - but that goes without saying considering our league position. A run of poor results following the 2-1 victory against Newcastle earlier in the season saw the end of Roy Keane`s reign as manager. Keano walked out, although he claims that he was almost pushed, after one of the worst performances I have ever witnessed against Bolton at home. Ricky Sbragia replaced Keano and we had a good run of results initially, but our form has dipped again and now we are in a very precarious position.
Another reason is the lack of depth at the back. George McCartney`s injury left us exposed at left back. Pascal Chimbonda`s poor performances and departure left us exposed on the right. Anton Ferdinand has had a number of central defensive partners: Nyron Nosworthy has been injured since January, but is a poor Premiership player at best; Danny Collins has had to deputise for McCartney; Tal Ben Haim has hardly set the world alight since joining at the end of the Transfer Window; and Calum Davenport has only had a couple of appearances. The less said about Paul McShane in this article the better.
Despite all of this, we should still be safe. A quick glance at Jeff Winter's League of Injustice proves this. Winter states here that he "... cannot disagree with this entirely because incorrect decisions do have an effect on results. However, so many other things go on during a game of football that also have an effect." Ok, the last big decision in our game did go our way because Djibril Cisse was offside when he scored the winner against Hull. However, a glance at the league table proves that Sunderland should be sitting in mid-table, eight points better off than we are right now and, more importantly, safe from the threat of relegation. Jeff simply analyses the big incidents that happened during a game, and I`m sure there are many other wrong decisions that have not led to goals or penalties being given (or not being given) that he has not mentioned.
One of the incidents that cost us points this season was on our visit to St. James`. Howard Webb awarded a penalty when Steven Taylor clearly dived, which resulted in the penalty being converted and the Mags claiming a point. This is not entirely the referee`s fault, he was conned by the player, but this was after Damien Duff also threw himself to the ground in an effort to win a penalty that Mr. Webb had correctly identified as a dive. With Newcastle and Sunderland both fighting against the drop, this decision could be the difference between Newcastle staying up and Sunderland going down. Staying in the Premiership is worth in the region of £60m. So how can a club be forced to suffer when they have lost points due to poor refereeing decisions?
Replays on the television proved that Taylor had dived. Sky Sports had the evidence on our screens within seconds of the incident. So why can`t these images be used to assist the referee in making the correct decision? I`m sure Howard Webb would have loved to have the assistance. It is common to see during rugby matches the Ref speaking to the video ref in the stand asking if there is any reason why a try cannot be awarded and this decision takes a couple of minutes while the clock is stopped and the correct decision is made. So why can`t football follow rugby`s example? Ok, if a referee fails to give a penalty or if a ball that has been cleared that could have crossed the line, he would have to stop play so the video could be reviewed. There is also the problem with offside decisions, as every incident where the decision was debatable does not necessarily lead to a goal, further complicated by players stopping if the flag does go up. The other problem is where you draw the line. Do you stick to major decisions - goals, penalties, red cards - or do you also look at free kicks, corners, bookings, etc?
People will have different ideas for the best way to implement this. My theory, however, is a challenges system. You have two challenges per game, and if your correct with both you get a third challenge. A limit forces managers to be selective in issuing a challenge. For example, Ricky Sbragia could have challenged the Taylor decision, the video would have confirmed that the player had dived and the penalty should not have been awarded, Taylor would have been booked and Sunderland would have gone on to win 1-0 and right now be seven points clear of Newcastle instead of four and Sunderland fans would be resting a lot more comfortably right now.
Looking at Jeff Winter`s League of Injustice, Newcastle and Middlesbrough could also claim to be the poster child for television replays if they do go down. However, that is for their fans to claim.