Leicester City vs. West Ham was a match-up which didn’t disappoint. Drama all throughout — including several big refereeing decisions — meant neutral and partial fans alike were treated to a riveting affair at the King Power stadium Sunday afternoon.
Given the title race and European ambitions for each club respectively, the outcome of the battle would have huge implications throughout the footballing world. Leicester headed in needing nine points from the final five games to ensure the title, obviously under immense pressure not to slip up. Unfortunately, they had to face a West Ham side coming into its own of late, having given Man United a tough — albeit unsuccessful — battle in an FA cup tie the previous week.
From the off the match was fast-paced, although a bit disjointed. West Ham nearly took the lead early on, if it weren’t for Kasper Schmeichel’s heroics and a bit of Leicester luck. The Foxes — in their trademark style — didn’t keep much possession, yet managed to put together some half-chances early on. As expected, Vardy was able to break the deadlock at the end of a quick counter attack around 20 minutes in.
The second-half was much scrappier, and saw big decisions swing the momentum of the game the way of the East Londoners. Vardy — who’d received a fairly innocuous yellow in the first half — again found himself in the box, goal-side of the defender with only the keeper to beat. However with a stoke of luck for the Hammers, the usually cunning fox Vardy chose to throw himself into a laughable dive rather than dispatch the ball past Adrian. The well-positioned referee — Jon Moss — thus handed the striker a red via second yellow for simulation. In a moment of unnecessary stupidity, Vardy single-footedly managed to put Leicester City’s unparalleled title run into legitimate question.
Down to 10 men, the league leaders found it difficult to counter-attack with the edge they usually did. Still, they managed to contain the visitors for much of the game. That was until they gave up a penalty towards the end of regulation off a corner kick. The ref, who’d already warned the players of holding in the box once, immediately pointed to the spot when his words fell upon deaf ears. Wes Morgan was the culprit this time, although as any fan of the game knows, Moss could’ve given out a number of cards to either team on the same play. In any case, the recently subbed-in Andy Carroll sent the lesser Schmeichel the wrong way to level the scores. This was shortly followed by a stunning volley by Aaron Cresswell to put the Hammers ahead 2-1. Unbelievably, the home side managed to even things up in stoppage time after converting a penalty for a foul that was suspect at best.
The talking points following the match have obviously been centered around the title run — especially with Tottenham’s convincing win the Monday following. Yet, it raised more glaring issues for the game that must be addressed. Much angst has been directed towards ref Jon Moss for his “unconvincing” performance managing the game. However, I’d suggest that the problem isn’t the ref’s ability, but rather the players’ expectations. A ref cannot manage players’ expectations on interpretation of the rules alone. Rather, he needs the league as a whole to enforce more consistency in those rules and regulations.
Case in point is the issue of diving in football today. What’s a dive? What’s not a dive? Anyone watching who understands the game and the basic laws of physics knows that Jamie Vardy’s fall in the second half was an obvious attempt to win a penalty. There was minimal to no contact, he had possession of the ball, and somehow he managed to toss his legs up and over into the legs of the defender. This is, by every definition, a dive.
Furthermore, anyone who understands the rules knows that simulation, wherever it may be on the field, is a yellow card. The issue, however, is that simulation is up to the referee’s discretion. Oftentimes it’s not clear the intentions of the player, and the ref will wave play-on or award a foul. So players feel they can get away with it, more so now more than ever. Players also rarely receive retrospective punishment for dives when they do get caught. If the league were serious about getting diving out of the game, they’d punish offenders in the same way they do with dangerous challenges. Just the same, it has no place in the game. So it needs to be banished.
Then there’s the madness that goes on in corners. Defenders are taught growing up to manhandle the opposition on corners and free kicks into the box. Strikers are told to preempt this by doing the same. But the rules stipulate that this is illegal on both ends. Still, almost never do refs call it either way. On the rare chance they do call it, it’s never a penalty, but a free kick for the defending team. This is inconsistent with the reality of every set-play at every level of the sport I have ever witnessed, first or second hand.
In the Leicester vs. West Ham match, Jon Moss rightly called a penalty on Wes Morgan, after having already warned both teams only seconds before. However, where he failed was a missed call at the other end, when Robert Huth was put in a chokehold and tossed to the ground by a West Ham defender soon thereafter.
Verily, Leicester were awarded and converted a soft penalty to level the scores in the waning moments. Vardy was also handed an extended ban, for the red card and then mouthing off to the official. But that’s not the point. The game must depart from such inconsistencies in officiating. The FA must take it as their duty to become stricter in dealing with diving and holding on set plays. Whether it’s handing out harsher punishments, or more rigorous training for referees, I don’t know. All I do know is that there will always be controversy until these two issues are addressed.
Then again, maybe controversy is just the nature of game.