English football reacted with surprise and dismay yesterday when Mario Balotelli was given a reprieve for his stamp on Alex Song, meaning he will face no retrospective action for the foul, but Shaun Derry's soft red card against Manchester United was allowed to stand.
On a difficult day for the Football Association's disciplinary department, the referee Martin Atkinson said that he saw enough of Balotelli's lunge at Song on Sunday that the governing body could not go back on the foul, under Fifa guidelines.
In the separate case of Derry, dismissed by Lee Mason for the faintest of touches on Ashley Young in QPR's defeat by United the same day, an independent panel ruled the decision should stand. The panel had to decide if it was a "serious and obvious" error by Mason and judged it was not. QPR lodged an appeal against the Derry red card but the decision stands and he will serve his one-match ban against Swansea City tonight.
The third major decision of the day saw the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic charged with violent conduct for an off-the-ball punch landed on Wigan Athletic's Shaun Maloney during the two clubs' Premier League game on Saturday.
The Balotelli case could not face retrospective action once Atkinson told the FA that he had some sight of the incident. The usual procedure is that if an official answers that he did not see the incident, the FA then asks what punishment he would have applied had he done so. Atkinson said that he, his assistant on that side, Peter Kirkup, and the fourth official Andre Marriner had had some sight of the incident. Even though they did not see the full severity of the foul, that prevents the FA from acting retrospectively.
Balotelli was facing a potential nine-match ban. He had already received a three-game ban for his red card at the end of the match, for two bookable offences (one game for the two yellows and two games for it being his third red of the season). Had he also been hit for the Song incident he would have been banned for three games for violent conduct and a further three for it being his fourth red of the season.
As it stands, Balotelli will be banned for three matches which means his potential comeback game will be the Manchester derby at the Etihad against Manchester United on 30 April.