The Matt Holland Column: One way to a cleaner game – a full screen test the next day

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Despite a few players being missing, including me with an injured foot, it was imperative that we continued our recent good form and avoided any banana skins at Dagenham and Redbridge yesterday. After an early scare or two we were able to settle down well and ended up winning quite comfortably.

Despite a few players being missing, including me with an injured foot, it was imperative that we continued our recent good form and avoided any banana skins at Dagenham and Redbridge yesterday. After an early scare or two we were able to settle down well and ended up winning quite comfortably.

Nine points out of 12 over the Christmas schedule have given us a real chance of survival in the Premiership and with 40 points being widely regarded as enough for safety, we need to win seven out of our last 17 games. Considering our last three fixtures are Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, we probably have to focus realistically on winning seven out of fourteen and I think we will. Let me explain. After a lucky win against Spurs we found some confidence in our passing and play and comfortably beat Leicester and Sunderland by two and five goals respectively. Admittedly we followed this with a naïve and incredibly frustrating defeat to Charlton, but a quick tally from our last five matches gives us 15 goals.

Historically the teams that have suffered relegation have been ineffective in front of goal, but 15 from five and the return of Marcus Stewart suggest that we will score. Can we keep them out at the other end is our issue.

So our good form is coming at the right time, while others are enduring slumps. Everton, Middlesbrough, Bolton, Derby, Southampton and Leicester are all candidates alongside us for the drop and in the next two months there are some crucial double-points matches. What a contrast from last season. Then I was looking at Arsenal and Leeds as double-point matches, now it is Derby and Everton. Still, I cannot deny that the relegation battle is almost as exciting.

And there is a great buzz at training. We know we are in a scrap and I think we are starting to relish it. The banter is coming back, although a lot of the humour has been revolving around the commentary team at the darts. With the family at EuroDisney for the new year and my foot stopping me from training, I have watched an awful lot of the "tungsten tusslers" as Sid Waddell calls them. Apart from marvelling at the unbelievable skill of Phil Taylor, a more dominant force in darts than Tiger Woods is in golf, I have enjoyed the fantastic commentators. You don't just watch this tournament, you listen to it as well. What other sport would have a competitor described, at a noise level that made the microphone redundant, as looking "as comfortable as a penguin in a microwave".

If playing Phil Taylor while resembling a sweating penguin is the hardest job in darts, what is it in football? Probably being a referee. I know I would not want to do it. This is the first year of professional refs, when standards were meant to improve, but I've noticed no difference. Waiting in the tunnel before the Sunderland game, Graham Poll said: "Why do I do this? I must love it."

During a match he gets just one view, possibly obscured, of acts that happen at high pace. Add to that the subterfuge of many players, the pressure of trial by television, ridicule by the print media and the contempt from some managers and it is easy to see it as a thankless task.

Thankless it may be, but it is also vital and I think there are ways to help them. The linesmen could be wired to the referee and be referees in all but name. Instead of blowing a whistle, they would speak into a microphone and the referee blows the whistle.

Video should also be used more after matches. At the moment it can be used to rescind cards or stamp out violence, but I think each match should be refereed again the following day within agreed parameters and cards awarded. For instance a referee could watch for diving, blatant cheating, punching and elbowing and act upon the evidence. With the increase in suspensions and fines, the players would learn to play the game more fairly and in a better spirit.

I'm not sure that I would want video during a game, although it happens in cricket and rugby. Both those need decisions to be referred, whereas I want it in football solely to help clean the game up.

Consistency is also important. In the Nationwide League the captains had two minutes with the ref when he stated what was acceptable on the pitch. We then informed the players and as long as the ref was true to his words, the players had little complaint. This does not happen in the Premier League but it would help build a dialogue and relationships between officials and players.

And with the top refs earning in the region of £50,000 it may be that some players from lower leagues or that have had their careers shortened by injury might want to stay in the game by becoming officials. Why not? Many umpires in cricket are ex-players, often recent ones and their understanding of the game from having played it must help.

If all else fails we could have women referees. The Madrid derby in midweek was refereed by a woman and the players behaved impeccably. Just don't give us Anne Robinson – unless you want to see players looking "as comfortable as penguins in a microwave".

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