Football: Dilemma of the Equity card or yellow card

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IN THEIR response to the thespian activity that besmirched this summer's World Cup finals, referees are not guaranteed the support of Premiership coaches and managers.

A contentious issue it ruffled Kenny Dalglish's feathers at Stamford Bridge on Saturday when Alan Shearer was shown a yellow card by Uriah Rennie for suggesting that he had enough on his plate without having to put up with illegal treatment.

Shearer himself expressed some confusion about this - "You can't always be sure about what's going on," he said - but Dalglish was more forthright. "They [the referees] are on dangerous ground," he said after Newcastle's hard-fought 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

Dalglish makes the point that there is a fine line between players attempting to con referees and the frequent need to take evasive action. "Unless we get this right it could lead to a big problem," he added.

If more inclined to support players in these matters, and risking a charge of pompous appraisal, little fault could be found personally with Rennie's performance.

For quite a while Shearer has exploited respect for his status in the game to persuade officials that he is more sinned against than sinning, employing manoeuvres to win free-kicks when he is himself fouling.

Indeed one of the advantages England felt they would have in the World Cup was Shearer's cleverness in this department.

In a hard game there is not a great deal wrong with this but Shearer cannot complain when scrutiny goes against him and officials refuse to be bullied.

Not that England's captain was the only one to come under Rennie's close attention. Pierluigi Casiraghi was shown the yellow card for taking an unnecessary tumble, Gianfranco Zola for diving in the penalty area and Franck Leboeuf for time-wasting. Not a bad afternoon's work by one of the Premiership's better referees.

An even better afternoon for Stuart Pearce, who was not only the oldest player out there but one of the few who is not spoken of in multiples of seven figures.

At a rough calculation the players on view cost pounds 80m in total but only Zola came close to matching Pearce's contribution. Centre-back is not a role with which Pearce is greatly familiar but it was no problem for an outstanding professional.

There was a heroic quality to much of Pearce's work, typified by the desperate and almost successful attempt he made to prevent Celestine Babayaro giving Chelsea the lead in the 23rd minute after Zola had cleverly set up Gustavo Poyet.

Zola's craft and industry provided Chelsea with their best opportunities, but, as Gianluca Vialli admitted afterwards, they are still short of being technically and tactically efficient.

The frenzy of English football makes it difficult to establish changes in tempo. "We have to learn the importance of taking the foot off the accelerator," Vialli said, "to play at different rhythms."

Tell that to supporters who demand an urgent game while failing to appreciate the effect of constant urgency on cohesion.

Deployed in front of Chelsea's back four when making his home debut for them on Saturday, the World Cup's best defender Marcel Desailly, of France, saw more of the ball in the air than throughout the finals.

Praised by Dalglish for the effort they put in, Newcastle's favoured ploy was the early long pass to either Shearer or Andreas Andersson. If not the most appealing method it did bring an equaliser two minutes before half-time when Shearer headed on for Andersson to make the most of a slip by Michael Duberry to squeeze the ball past Ed De Goey.

After that Newcastle needed all Pearce's stout resistance and organisational skills as well as Shay Given's shot-stopping.

The introduction of Norberto Solano for Andersson did however give Newcastle a sharper edge and more was seen of Shearer. Kept in check for most of the game he suddenly made space for himself to hit the far post with a shot that rebounded into De Goey's grateful embrace.

Dalglish was asked whether he feels optimistic. "I was optimistic last season," he smiled.

Goals: Babayaro (23) 1-0; Andersson (43) 1-1.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux (Petrescu, 58); Poyet (Flo, 73), Desailly, Di Matteo, Babayaro; Zola, Casiraghi. Substitutes not used: Lambourde, Newton, Hitchcock (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Pearce, Pistone (Albert, 67); Lee, Hamann, Dabizas, Speed; Andersson (Solano, 67), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Howey, Ketsbaia, Perez (gk).

Bookings: Chelsea: Leboeuf, Casiraghi, Duberry, Zola. Newcastle: Pistone, Shearer.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Pearce.

Attendance: 34,795.