Coventry City. . .1
THIS season, referees have gone green and managers purple. Managers moaning at those who for 90 minutes control their charges is no new phenomenon, but the quickened pace of the modern game and the financial imperatives of staying with the elite has added immeasurably to the inherent tension between the man who sends his players out and the man who can send them off.
Bobby Gould's angry comments about Allan Gunn's 55th-minute decision to disallow a Mick Quinn 'goal', awarding instead a penalty for Bryan Gunn's foul on Quinn's team-mate, John Williams, are another emotional manifestation of the unease between the two factions. In recent months the Football Association has fined George Graham and banned Joe Kinnear from the bench for a few choice words directed at officials.
'Linesmen and referees just don't understand the game properly,' Gould said. 'They don't understand that these sort of decisions affect the livelihoods of players and managers. We have meetings with referees at the beginning of a season but it seems there's a breakdown in communication.'
The disintegration was clearly discernible. Allan Gunn tried to explain his version of events to Gould in the tunnel, but the Coventry manager refused to listen. 'I told him his decision was criminal. Something has to be done. We, the League Managers' Association, and you, the Press, must act. You lot got Kinnock out, why don't you get some of these referees out?'
Blowing the whistle on the whistle-blowers is all very well (and there are below-par referees around) but having stopped the play, Allan Gunn's decision was, technically, correct. His Norwich namesake brought down Williams, the linesman's flag flew up, so he blew for a penalty a split second before Quinn stroked the ball into a deserted net. The mistake was not to play advantage. Unfortunately, the increased haste and hectic nature of English football forces officials to react instantaneously when a moment's reflection might bring a more considered verdict.
Gould gave both Gunns both barrels. 'If it's a penalty, the keeper has got to go,' Gould added, raising another point. 'It's not that we wanted to see Bryan Gunn sent off but it's the law.' Norwich's keeper said there was nothing 'malicious' in his challenge on Williams but Fifa rules, rightly or wrongly, dictate he should have walked.
Refereeing inconsistencies now abound around the goalmouth like a loose ball in a bagatelle. Neville Southall was dismissed for accidently handling outside the box, while Gunn did not even earn a lecture for upending an opponent charging towards goal.
Gould's frustration was partly fuelled by the Sky Blues' failure to equalise from the spot, Gunn saving Brian Borrows's kick before the meaty Quinn rocked the bar.
It was rough justice but parity was not far away. Kevin Gallacher knocked the ball down the left for the highly promising Keith Rowland, an Irishman on loan from Bournemouth, to cross in front of Gunn. Quinn sidefooted the ball into the net and his celebration of his 11th goal in 10 games included a brief jibe at the linesman.
Coventry deserved a point for their second-half enterprise but Norwich should have been uncatchable by the break. They attacked, as ever, with wit and width but poor final balls and wayward finishing (a particular problem of late) restricted them to Chris Sutton's neat 13th-minute strike.
Goalscoring moves by Mike Walker's team are invariably worth dissecting: this one went via Crook's cross, passes from Phillips and Bowen, Sutton's lay-off, Phillips' lofted through-ball, headed flicks from Bowen and Fox to Sutton, whose excellent first touch gave him room to score. Some goals brook no argument.
Goals: Sutton (13) 1-0; Quinn (58) 1-1.
Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Polston (Woodthorpe, 86), Goss, Crook (Sutch, 27), Beckford, Sutton, Fox, Phillips. Substitute not used: Walton (gk).
Coventry City: Ogrizovic; Borrows, Babb, Atherton, Busst, Williams, Greenman (Rowland, 47), Gynn, Rosario, Quinn, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Fleming, Gould (gk).
Referee: A Gunn (South Chailey, Sussex).