Sympathy for referee in Johnson tackle row


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Another high-profile match between two of English football's most powerful clubs on Wednesday night and another tackle that has become the narrative of the game. Glen Johnson's challenge on Joleon Lescott at the end of Manchester City's 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final has demonstrated, once again, the difficulty of implementing a law that is consistent on all occasions.

Fellow referees were united yesterday in sympathy for Lee Mason, the official in charge at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday who failed to recognise that Johnson had committed a textbook red-card offence. Ignore, for a moment, the off-the-cuff wisdom of the pundits from the never-a-red-card-in-my-day school and examine the actual letter of the law.

It is Law 12 of the game dealing with serious foul play. There is no mention in the rules of a player's intent and it is immaterial as to whether he plays the ball first before connecting with an opponent. The key criteria in deciding whether a player is guilty of serious foul play – and therefore dismissed – is if he "lunges" at an opponent with one or both legs with "excessive force" and is guilty of "endangering the safety" of the opponent in question.

The former Premier League referee Alan Wiley, who officiated in the top-flight for 11 years, told i yesterday that Johnson's lunge at Lescott in added time on Wednesday was, under the current rules, a red-card offence. "I would imagine the only reason he [Mason] hasn't sent him off was because he hasn't had the view of it that we had on television," he said. "When you see a challenge slowed down it is very easy to spot [the nature of it]," Wiley said. "If you break it down bit-by-bit in replay you see that Johnson takes off from a distance and both feet come off the ground, like Kompany [on Nani in the game against Manchester United] . If you look at the Johnson challenge from a normal angle it just looks like a normal challenge. I cannot speak for Lee but I think the option [to send off Johnson] would have been there.

"There is only one thing that changes in every incident and that is the human element. I think managers and players should expect consistency in the 90 minutes of a game because it is the same referee in charget. But to try to get consistency week after week with different referees is impossible."