James Lawton: Technology can halt another title travesty

Drogba's almost laughably illicit goal might be the decisive factor in a season-long battle

Monday 05 April 2010 00:00 BST

That was, you have to suspect, the title race that was, all wrapped up at Old Trafford. But let's hope not.

Not because Chelsea did not deserve the spoils of an impressive performance – and a superb response from coach Carlo Ancelotti and his team to the trauma of Jose Mourinho's Champions League ambush at Stamford Bridge last month.

No, the reason for massive regret would be that Didier Drogba's almost laughably illicit goal might just be the decisive factor in an enthralling season-long battle between two teams of great talent and, generally speaking, superior competitive application.

No contest involving skill and nerve should be settled so spuriously and it means that once again a major football competition has been placed at the mercy of incompetent officiating.

The point about the value of technology, and the ease, if it had been in use, with which a fourth official could have pointed out to referee Mike Dean that if Drogba had been much more clearly offside he might have been arrested for loitering in Deansgate, has surely registered with everyone attuned to life in the 21st century.

You can only make the case so often and it has been aired enough in the wake of Thierry Henry's outrageous cheating when the Republic of Ireland were beaten out of a place in the World Cup finals at the Stade de France in November. However, if the argument should have been conceded so long ago, maybe it is worth underlining at least one more time the absurdity of issues like who gets to a World Cup and who wins the Premier League resting with the ability of an official to see something patently obvious to anyone with any kind of view at all of a television screen.

On this occasion the linesman even had the advantage of having the line of the 18-yard box accentuating the fact that the Chelsea striker was so far beyond the last defender. Had it been the finishing line of the Olympic 100 metres and Usain Bolt had been Drogba he would certainly already have been in celebration mode when the ball was delivered to the striker's feet.

Manchester United were outplayed in the first half and looked, as Sir Alex Ferguson said, leggy from their efforts in Munich in midweek. There was also no doubt that they grievously missed the injured Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov again producing dismaying evidence that at £30m he is, give or take Juan Sebastian Veron, shaping up as Ferguson's one major folly in the market. We can also throw in the facts that Chelsea were, as Ancelotti said, focused and mentally strong, and that Florent Malouda once again showed himself to be both physically awesome and splendidly creative. When you put it all together, the verdict has to be unequivocal. Chelsea were indeed worth the win that gives them a two-point edge at the top of the League.

The trouble is that, with just five matches to go, that could be how it ends and if it is so we are staring at one of those travesties which are always just around the corner when the football authorities say, in effect, that their match officials are infallible.

They are plainly not, but then how much better it would be if they received not abuse but a little tea and sympathy and some practical help. Presumably, most officials are keener on football justice prevailing at all times rather than the mere burnishing of their egos. A word in the ear of Saturday's offending linesman, sorry, assistant referee, would surely have been welcomed by him if it meant that he might not always be remembered as the man who so haplessly made a possibly crucial contribution to the 2009-10 title race.

Some no doubt will argue that penalties could have been handed to both sides at Old Trafford but, as it happened, none of the appeals could be placed alongside the atrocity that happened when Drogba's goal was allowed to stand.

Chelsea, understandably enough after their experience against Barcelona in last season's Champions League, are not likely to lose too much sleep over the outrageousness of the goal. It certainly did little or nothing to diminish the fact that since Mourinho's Internazionale delivered their clever knockout blow, Chelsea have responded with a flood of goals and the look of champions. That one of the goals would not have happened under a more intelligent stewardship of the game is on this occasion not their problem.

Of course, a similar one could be inflicted on them as early as their next game. In the meantime, however, they have every reason to believe that they can handle anything that comes their way. Crazy decisions have, after all, become a routine part of the game. Chelsea's current form can make them an exception to the hazardous rule.

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