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FA Premiership
Saturday, 24th November 2007

West Ham United 1
Tottenham Hotspur 1

by Gordon Thrower


Refereeing standards in this country are a complete and utter disgrace. This should not come as news to anybody since the individual given responsibility for ensuring standards are maintained is Keith Hackett. However, it should not be beyond the wit of the world’s second most stupid Yorkshireman to realise that certain referees should not be allowed out in public.

Over the years I have come to notice certain trends and patterns developing. These have enabled me to formulate Gnome’s laws of refereeing which, in a similar manner to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, should enable anyone with half a brain (possibly ruling Hackett out) to work out if someone is fit and proper to officiate. The laws are these:

1) Bald referees are rubbish;
2) Referees called “Mike” are rubbish; and
3) Bald referees called Mike are rubbish beyond any normal scale of measurement.

The empirical proof of these laws, particularly law 3, is to be found every week in matches officiated by messrs. Dean and Riley. Dean is by far and away the worse of the two but it seems that Riley has taken his namesake’s pre-eminence in the incompetency stakes as something of a personal affront. How else can one explain Riley’s attempt on the world record for “most stupid decisions in one match”.

I was nearly late for this one. A combination of an argument with an electronic kitchen bin (which was clearly having no truck with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics), railway engineering works and a jobsworth traffic warden, resulted in my arriving with seconds to spare before kick-off. The hastily-obtained team sheet reading Green, Neill, McCartney, Upson, Gabbidon, Noble, Mullins, Solano, Etherington, Boa-Morte and Cole.

The most notable feature of the opening few minutes was the booing of Robinson who, although not actually part of Wednesday’s debacle, had more than contributed to England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 I the earlier qualifying matches. On the pitch the opposition had a fair amount of possession and had the ball in the net on three minutes when Green parried a Jenas save with the obviously offside Lennon putting in the rebound. Our main problem was keeping possession as passes went astray. Riley also started as poorly as ever, deeming any aerial challenge to be illegal if the loser was wearing a white shirt. Cole in particular seemed to suffer from this one-sided ignorance of the laws of the game. Spurs cottoned on quickly and we were treated to a succession of head clutching each time the ball was lost in the air.

The other thing that Spurs are quite good at is diving. They’re not quite up to Liverpool standard yer but give them their due they’re trying as evidenced by Berbatov’s theatrical launch to the floor when Etherington got within six inches of him. This was followed by a booking – not for Berbatov but for Zokora who slid in studs upon Gabbidon. The second yellow of the day went to Cole for, winning the ball fairly and squarely in the air. Well to be fair Riley had warned him previously that jumping up and heading the ball would not be tolerated so I suppose the booking was inevitable. Eleven minutes in and Riley was running at a rate of about one disgraceful decision every two minutes.

On 13 minutes Dawson upended Boa-Morte – a foul that was not yellow card material in itself. However, compared to Cole’s “offences,” the tackle was worthy of a custodial sentence in the Scrubs and just served to highlight Riley’s inconsistency. The resulting free-kick was played long into the box and, as is the trend whenever anybody has the temerity to challenge a ‘keeper in the box, Riley awarded a free-kick against Upson who Robinson clattered into after making a poor punch.

Neill then nearly talked himself into Riley’s book for complaining that not for the first time a perfectly legal challenge had been punished. McCartney cleared the dangerous-looking free-kick for a corner.

On 18 minutes we took the lead. Kaboul, who looks a bit of a liability in all honesty, hit a clearance straight at Boa-Morte. LBM went forward and fed the overlapping Solano who played a square ball across the box for Cole to tap in from six yards shutting up the massed ranks of soap-dodgers behind the goal. Riley probably spent a few minutes looking to see if he could issue a second.

Mullins promising burst forward on 23 minutes ended in a disappointing shot as the confidence seemed to increase in the home side, though Robinson did his best to spill it. This was followed by some good work down the left by Cole who fed LBM’s well-timed run into the box only for the Portuguese striker to hit his shot straight at Robinson to earn nothing more than a corner. Nobby’s corner fell eventually to Noble whose shot might have paid dividends but for a deflection wide for a throw.

Spure then went on what was for that period a rare break and Bale’s cross eluded Gabbidon at the back stick only for Berbatov to make a right pig’s ear of his attempt on goal. The next bit of controversy saw Spurs very hopeful claims for another spot-kick turned down as the ball hit Cole on the arm. Still, as we were to find out later, the fact that something isn’t a penalty is no barrier to the likes of Riley so the call was worth a shout. As if to underline the point Riley then punished Boa-Morte for a foul committed by, er, Jenas!

When Riley wasn’t interrupting things with his “brain-donor on acid” interpretation of the laws there was the occasional bit of good play going on. Some nice interplay between Boa-Morte, Cole and Etherington down the left saw Kaboul clear Matty’s dangerous cross using the unique “stumbling over the ball” method he seems to have perfected. The corner wasn’t cleared and Solano and Cole contrived to get to the byline to cross. I mean no disrespect to Etherington when I point out that I’d rather just about any other Hammer had been on the end of the cross, what with Matty’s aerial prowess being on a par with, well, Riley’s refereeing really.

Then came the moment that Spurs fans will moan about forever. Keane, a mere yard or two offside from a long ball, looped the ball over Green and, seeing the ball going out went down like a sack of spuds. Keane has a reputation and a tendency for doing this so, given that it was only the baffling failure of the linesman to do his job in anything resembling a competent manner that allowed Keane to be in a position to fall over in the first place, justice was done when Riley waved away the protests. I might even suggest that it was Riley’s way of overruling a blatantly incorrect decision from the lino, but that would be ascribing a level of intelligence to an individual who on every other occasion has shown all the brainpower of a single-celled organism after a particularly heavy night down the pub. The massed protests of the sort that usually get other clubs into trouble went strangely unpunished – something that must have made Cole wonder exactly what he’d done to merit a yellow.

The half finished without further ado, save for Mullins’ unchallenged header from a Solano corner which had Chimbonda moaning about God knows what.

So to the second half. A Jenas run 4 minutes in went unchallenged only for Malbranque to curl a shot wide. Amazingly the officials has spotted the offside this time, despite it only being a matter of feet rather than the yards they had earlier had trouble with.

LBM then went on a promising run down the right to earn a corner having watched the hapless Kaboul completely misjudge a long ball from the back. However the corner came to naught and it took a fine clearance from the impressive Upson to prevent danger from a Berbatov-led Spurs break. The resulting corner led to Riley finally losing patience with Chimbonda after yet another “too much caffeine” style protest. Dawson followed his team-mate into the book shortly after for a cynical foul on LBM. Nobby attempted the outrageous “round the outside” free-kick that DiCanio used to sometimes do, sadly without similar success.

Kaboul left on 53 minutes to be replaced by his striking equivalent the ridiculously overpriced Bent (what were you thinking of Alan?). Gabbidon then got booked for being the nearest person to Keane’s latest tumble. The free-kick gave an insight into what it must be like training at Spurs – Bale’s weak effort probably scores week in week out on the training ground against Robinson. Green laughed out loud as he plucked it from the air.

Cole then became a victim of the curse of Riley once more. Chimbonda grabbed the striker and threw him to the ground in a marvellous example of black-belt judo. Result? Free-kick to Spurs. I can only presume that Cole’s landing was not perfect. I suppose we should be grateful that he wasn’t given a second yellow. Neill was victim to a similar curse, being penalised for having his neck grabbed by Chimbonda. Parker replaced Noble on the hour to see how long his latest comeback would last before on 65 minutes it went pear-shaped. LBM gave away a needless free-kick which Bale pumped in. Green equally needlessly came off his line in a Robinson-esque attempt to punch clear enabling Dawson to head into the empty net giving the hitherto silent bunch of away fans something to remember on their next trip to the laundrette. July I think it’s due.

This woke us up a bit. Boa-Morte forced a corner on the left. Dawson won the ball in the air. Riley gave a free-kick to be on the safe side just to save the visitors from having to commit a foul to get one.

With 20 left to play Ashton replaced the hard-working Boa-Morte. This was followed by a major miracle. Carlton Cole was fouled –AND WAS GIVEN THE FREE-KICK!!!!! Apologies for the use of upper-case but it was such a momentous event that I think some sort of recognition is in order. Nothing came of the free-kick mind but even so it came as a shock.

Solano was then caught in possession after good work by Cole – it was the sort of challenge that Riley had previously given against us on a number of occasions- and Spurs set off on a break down the left where Bale pulled the ball back for Malbranque to hit straight at Green, the real England no.1 gathering at the second attempt.

Then Defoe came on. It must pain him to have gone so far down in the world but if you’re thick enough to hand in a transfer request when you’re at a decent club the only way is down. He replaced Keane to well-merited boos thus giving the visitors a different diving option.

With ten left on the clock Cole cut in from the left and flashed a shot a foot or so wide past the near post. This angered Riley who then gave a free-kick against Cole for, well nobody knows why. At least Riley got it right when booking Defoe only a few minutes into his game. The booking came for dissent after he’d controlled the ball with both arms. Amazing really. How the hell did Riley get that one right. I suppose the law of averages suggests one guess a match must be right. This was followed by the replacement of Solano by Spector. There was barely time for the change to be nade before Riley was making an idiot of himself again, inexplicably failing to give Chimbonda his second yellow card for his fifth cautionable offence, on this occasion in using a hand. Deliberate handball preventing the ball reaching an opponent Riley, look it up if you can read.

The free-kick plumbed new depths Neill stood over the ball whilst Malbranque stood about 8 yards away. This wasn’t good enough for Riley who allowed the former Fulham man to advance a yard. Neill waited for Riley to take action. None was forthcoming. If we’d waited another minute or two Malbranque would have been stood on the ball. The free-kick was cleared as far as Parker who couldn’t get the ball out from between his legs quickly enough and shot over.

At this point the debate centred upon whether the fourth official might be a better bet. The fact that we were even considering whether Rob Styles might be a better option should tell you all you need to know about Riley’s efforts on the day.

Cole then won a ball and managed to lay it off to Parker before the ref noticed who it was. Parkers clever curled effort brought a save out of Robinson at the post. Ashton got on the end of the corner but Riley was back on his give a free-kick for Christmas drive again. With two left Ashton and Cole combined well and Deano brought another save out of Robinson. Matty’s corner found Linda who was unfortunate to see his header cleared off the line by Jenas.

Riley saved the biggie until last. Defoe ran into the box on 90 and went down under minimal contact. It was no more a penalty than I am a Venezuelan aardvark called Nigel. So Riley gave it. In a match of so many appalling decisions this one took the biscuit. Thankfully it was left to the incredible sulk to take the spot-kick and Green was able to atone for his earlier error by saving superbly to his left. This was followed up by the process that I understand is known as “giving it large” to the massed ranks of dandruff and body-odour behind him.

There was still time for one last Riley effort as Cole was fouled by three Spurs defenders just outside the box before Riley gave the free kick the other way.

A draw was about the right result and was all the more satisfying given the circumstances. How odd is it that, given the fact that Robinson makes more mistakes in a week than Green does in a season, Spurs had both ‘keepers to thank for their point. In truth thay are a poor side. Unfortunately I don’t think they’ll go down as Sunderland, Derby and Wigan seem to be trying to outdo them at the moment. We can but pray though.

As for Riley, well if after that he ever referees another match something is severely wrong. He will and there is. I understand he might go to Euro 08 in which case the whole continent will see that our refs are every bit as good as our national team. Unfortunately.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A rare off-day. At fault for the goal. Uncertain handling. A shame McClaren has gone because those seem to have been his criteria for selection in recent years.


Lucas Neill
Some good stuff defensively – a difficult job made harder by the ref’s, er, eccentricities.


George McCartney
Glad to see him back after the knock. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet late on.


Danny Gabbidon
Fairly strong but there were a couple of lapses down by the corner flag late on.


Matthew Upson
Excellent. Won a lot in the air and got in some timely interceptions. I’d give him MOTM myself.


Hayden Mullins
Another who got in some decent challenges in the middle. The unsung hero type stuff.


Mark Noble
A few good challenges and a few good passes but faded quite early on, possibly as a result of his lay-off. We will see better from him.


Nobby Solano
Drifted in and out a bit – not sure if he’d been away with Peru but if so that might explain why he looked so exhausted when subbed. Good work for the goal.


Matthew Etherington
Another in and out performance. A few good runs and a few blind alleys.


Luis Boa Morte
A lot of hard work chasing lost causes, as exemplified by his work for the goal. Deserved his applause when subbed.


Carlton Cole
Another excellent run-out. Not the hardest goal he’ll ever score but it was well deserved. Unfortunate to come up against Riley at his most perverse and should really think about suing!


Substitutes


Scott Parker
(replaced Noble, 63) Some good touches and a decent effort forced a save out of Robinson


Dean Ashton
(replaced Bowyer, 72) Same as Parker really – right down to the bit about the save from Robinson.


Jonathan Spector
(replaced Bowyer, 72) Solid enough without really registering on the radar.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


James Collins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 34,966.

Man of the Match: Matthew Upson.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Nobby Solano, Matthew Etherington, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Carlton Cole 19                  .

Booked: Carlton Cole 12 Danny Gabbidon 57 Matthew Etherington 67      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Tottenham Hotspur

Robinson, Bale, Chimbonda, Kaboul, Dawson, Jenas, Zokora, Lennon, Malbranque, Keane, Berbatov.

Substitutes: Bent (Kaboul 54), Defoe (Keane 78).

Subs not used: Cerny, Lee, Boateng.

Goals: Dawson (66).

Booked: Zokora (9), Chimbonda (52), Dawson (53), Defoe (81).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Matthew Upson


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