Despite its thrilling goals at the beginning and end, Saturday’s Merseyside Derby was wrongfully dubbed a classic by many match observers.
A classic if you crave violence, brutal studs up challenges, elbows and forearm shivers to the face or a series of unbookable tit-for-tat fouls that go intentionally unpunished…then sure it was one for the ages.
But for most including Liverpool’s temperamental striker Luis Suarez, the Red’s clash with arch-rivals Everton was purely a disgusting display of poor judgement and bias by veteran EPL referee Phil Dowd.
The physical exchanges horror tackles left a bad taste in the mouths of most EPL connoisseurs.
Love or hate Red’s striker Suarez, Dowd’s hands-off, let them play, Laissez-faire approach for fouls against Suarez and others clearly tarnished a match which began with flashes of brilliance and clinical finishing and ended with a flurry of memorable goals.
This is what the highlight reels and scoring accounts will show in their account of Saturday’s contest but in reality this match exhibited all that is wrong with the game today when disgusting displays of unsportsmanlike conduct and blatant cheating go unpunished by a referee clearly incapable of recognizing the warning signs of a match ready to spiral out of control.
These are the same reasons people watch auto racing, waiting for the big wreck, or wrestling, UFC or hockey fights – the primal lust for blood and hope that something horrific might happen and unexplainable urge to see someone leave in an ambulance.
No doubt most English Premier League fans roll their eyes in denial when it comes to talk of the league’s temperamental leading scorer Suarez.
That’s because Suarez may also be the leader in EPL unsportsmanlike conduct.
Some remember him as the guy who was accused of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and then refusing to shake his hand
But others simply know the Uruguayan international as the psychologically disturbed Uruguayan international who received a ten-match ban for biting the arm of Chelsea opponent Branislav Ivanovic in last April’s now infamous match.
But on Saturday Dowd clearly overstepped his boundries and duty to protect the game’s players as Suarez was clearly the victim of numerous brutal challenges.
It became plainly obvious that Dowd was going to let everything go in this match when in the opening minutes Sylvain Distin delivered an off-the-ball forearm smash to the face of Daniel Agger in full view of the referee.
Moments later Gareth Barry intentionally stomped on the foot of Suarez who drew a free kick at the top of the Everton penalty area in the 19th minute.
There were boos from the crowd at Goodison Park when Suarez converted the resulting free kick for his ninth of the season and then foolishly gestured to the Toffies’ faithful, pretending to blowing smoke from an imaginary gun after sending his right-footed blast curling around the wall and giving the Reds a 2-1 lead.
This was a foolish decision and seemed to incite the fans and opponent, but shouldn’t have been an out-clause for Dowd and crew.
In the 34th minute things really began to unravel as Dowd chose not to deliver the appropriate discipline on a foul which anyone – even those with an axe to grind a personal bias against Suarez – would have surely given a straight red card.
The game-changing horror tackle, a ruthless flying studs up from behind challenge by Everton’s Kevin Mirallas to the back of Suarez’ knee even drew gasps from the Everton fans.
The foul sent the Uruguayan international to the turf cringing in a display which clearly was no case of play acting. Mirallas scored his own brilliant goal in the 11th minute but should have been sent off for the reckless challenge.
The tackle clearly warranted Mirallas’ departure to the tunnel but after a lengthy delay and consultation on his earpiece with his officiating crew, Dowd chose to only show yellow to Mirallas.
Comically when the Liverpool therapist entered the field to attend to Suarez he pushed and shoved away by Everton players – again Dowd chose to do nothing and not get involved.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was upset with Dowd’s response after the match telling the BBC that Mirallas should have received his marching orders.
“He should have been sent off,” said Rodgers. “Kevin Mirallas is a really honest attacking player and sometimes attackers make those challenges that are poor and that was a really bad one.”
A referee is bound by the laws of the game to protect players from serious injury by reckless challenges from behind and so as the rest of the events unfolded at Goodison it was surprising that none of the players left via stretcher.
Two minutes from the end of the opening half, Everton’s Gareth Barry and Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard collided in mid-air with each player leading with their elbows but Dowd refusing to issue a caution again.
Early in the second half Suarez and Mirallas went at it again.
This time it was Suarez lucky not to be sent off for a lunging two-footed studs up challenge on Mirallas.
Mirallas avoided Suarez’ tackle though, jumping over the lunge but then appeared to intentionally stomp on Suarez on his way down.
Again instead of stopping play and brandishing cards – yellow or even red – Dowd did nothing
As the fouls picked up and the play making and creativity ground to a halt, the match quickly unravelled into a series of cynical challenges and repeat fouls.
Finally another card came out from Dowd – one of an eventual seven yellows in the match which came far too late to save this one from decay.
Dowd finally brandished a card to Liverpool’s Joe Allen for his payback play, a thumping and deliberate kick to the shin pads of Mirallas.
Then in the 67th minute Liverpool’s Lucas could have been the next one walking down the tunnel early after a late tackle from behind on Steven Pienaar.
The conclusion of the match saw a pair of incredible goals by Everton’s Romelu Lukaku in the 72nd and 82nd minutes which made the score 3-2 to the homeside and a spectacular equalizer by substitute Daniel Sturidge when he headed home in the 89th minute.
The goals provided a spectacular finish to the match and saved Dowd from a healthy share of healthy embarrassment.
His lack of action on several of the fouls created ill-will and a powder keg atmosphere between the two bitter rivals.
It was a minor miracle that one of the players wasn’t seriously injured and stretchered off in this match or that the ragged and unpunished challenges didn’t plunge the game into further chaos.
The thing most disturbing about Dowd’s performance was that he clearly saw all of these infractions but chose to do nothing.
Hopefully the FA will have the good sense not to appoint Dowd as the head official when the two teams meet again on January 28th at Anfield.