Poll assault 'ridiculous' says Keegan

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The Independent Online

Kevin Keegan joined the debate on referees yesterday when he condemned Andy Gray, the Sky Sports pundit, for "ridiculous" comments about Graham Poll's handling of Monday's fiery Premiership match at Highbury between Arsenal and Liverpool.

Kevin Keegan joined the debate on referees yesterday when he condemned Andy Gray, the Sky Sports pundit, for "ridiculous" comments about Graham Poll's handling of Monday's fiery Premiership match at Highbury between Arsenal and Liverpool.

The former Aston Villa, Everton and Scotland striker was very critical of Poll's dismissals of Gary McAllister, Patrick Vieira and Dietmar Hamann, but Keegan said: "I was at Arsenal. I don't think Graham Poll had a great game but I don't think he had as bad a game as Andy Gray suggested. I thought Gray's comments were ridiculous. He has got slow-motion cameras, 12 different angles, referees do not have that. I was at the game and the tackles did look bad. Intent figures in the rules as well. I'm not saying Graham Poll was right. If I was in a TV studio with replays I would probably say he got them wrong but being on the pitch he probably made what he thought were the right decisions.

"That game was played at such a pace for half an hour, I have never seen a quicker game. The ball was being pushed around, there was total commitment and, with it being early season, players can mis-time their tackles - and referees make the odd bad decision.

"I know how frustrating it can be for a manager, I have had it happen to me, but we have all got to work together."

Keegan's comments reflect wider concern within the Football Association, not at the proliferation of red cards, but the reaction to them. While wary of becoming publicly involved while several cases are sub judice they are privately at pains to stress that the dismissals are not a response to their crackdown on discipline.

"Referees have been told to officiate the same as they did at the end of last season," said one official. "The new procedures only come into play when there is a brawl or mass intimidation of a referee. That has not applied in any match this season."

Referees are being stricter on two-footed tackles and elbowing but that is at the request of managers, through the League Managers' Association, and players, through the Professional Footballers' Association. Both groups feel such offences are particularly dangerous. Vieira's dismissals have come for an elbow and, via a second yellow card, a two-footed tackle.

The FA feels the reaction has been precipitate. There will be a review of the processes, and of refereeing performances, in October when the season should have settled down. It will also look then at the limitation of appeals, agreed with the LMA and PFA, to straight red cards which prevented Arsenal protesting Vieira's Highbury dismissal. With bookings running into thousands each season, it was felt that would overload the appeals board.

Fourth officials have been asked to apply more common sense - though this was not apparent at Chelsea on Saturday when Mark Halsey prevented the substituted Gianfranco Zola joining in the celebrations for Mario Stanic's stunning goal. The prospect of a sin-bin has not been explored though this might help referees who, said the FA, are feeling increasingly pressurised. Last year it was agreed that they would be met at hotels and taken to games in a "safe car". This year clubs have been asked not to identify their home towns in programmes. Some referees already have panic alarms at their homes and one FA official noted, only partly in jest, that it was almost reaching the stage when armed guards might have to be employed.

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