Despite his glaring errors throughout the rest of the match, referee Martin Atkinson got one call right: ejecting Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard for his deliberate stomp on Manchester United opponent Ander Herrera.
The ìmmediate howls of derision from Reds fans in Sunday’s marquee Premier League clash at Anfield were to be expected, but as television replays showed Gerrard clearly attempted to injure his opponent on the play and deserved to go. Gerrard could be facing a more severe ban than the standard three matches for his 46th-minute red card if the league’s disciplinary committee decides for a further review of the foul.
The initial reaction (before they had a chance to see the replay) from Liverpool fans was outrage and disbelieving cries of injustice. That’s because ‘The Kop’ already had a well-documented grudge against Atkinson going into the match and still couldn’t forgive the referee for missing last year’s knee-high challenge by Everton’s Kevin Mirralas on former Reds striker Luis Suarez last season.
There is also the glaringly obvious fact that Atkinson’s performance has dipped this season. The 43-year-old official from Bradford felt the wrath of Blues’ fans for abysmal performance in a February 22nd clash between Burnley and Chelsea which manager Jose Mourinho labelled ‘criminal’. Atkinson failed to caution Burnley’s Ashley Barnes for his horrific studs-up challenge on Namanja Matic, instead sending Matic off for protesting the foul and shoving Barnes. Atkinson and the leader in our poll for worst referee – Kevin Friend – were both dropped from matches the following weekend for their howlers. So you really can’t blame the knee-jerk reaction from Liverpool supporters about Gerrard’s moment of insanity since their hero entered the game as a halftime substitute but was sent off less than a minute after entering the match.
The rest of Atkinson’s performance on Sunday was spotty at best in a match which because of his calls threatened to boil over more than once. There were several decisions by Atkinson which validated the rage of fans on both sides. Liverpool fans could be justified in their claims that Manchester United defender Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney escaped their own red cards while Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel could have also seen red in the closing seconds of the match. Here are some problems we had with Atkinson’s performance:
21’ – Manchester United defender Phil Jones deliberately clears out Adam Lallana from behind with a rugby-style challenge which was a clear red card. Instead of going for the ball Jones lowered his shoulder and rammed his opponent from behind with no caution or even verbal warning from Atkinson for the foul.
56’ – Jones who should have already been in the books then takes out Jordan Henderson with a cynical lung from behind which did force Atkinson to brandish a yellow card. Given the fact Jones’ earlier challenge should have been a booking, Liverpool fans are right to claim that the English international should have been sent off.
67’ – Atkinson got this one right when he awarded second-half substitute Mario Balotelli a yellow card for deliberately clipping Jones in the ankle, in an obvious payback move.
71’ – United striker Wayne Rooney appears to kick out at the legs of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The Reds’ keeper jumped for a ball but Rooney tries a karate move on his opponent but escapes a booking from Atkinson.
79’ – Balotelli is smashed into the sideline advertising boards by opponent Chris Smalling. The two exchange some harsh words but again Atkinson chooses to issue no cautions or verbal warning and does nothing about the incident.
90+3’ – United’s Daley Blind draws a bogus penalty kick in injury after Emre Can appears to bundle him over in the penalty area but replays show it was shoulder to shoulder contact and Blind went down like a ton of bricks. Mignotlet stops Rooney’s penalty kick to keep it 2-1.
90+4’ - Skrtel deliberately stomps on Manchester United goalkeeper David Da Gea on final play of the game but receives no caution. Da Gea appears injured on the play but again Atkinson does nothing.
So despite getting the Gerrard decision right, Atkinson’s latest performance warrants further review and his appointment to future high profile matches in the final weeks of this season should be reconsidered.