Ref justice: Standard of officiating has dropped to an unacceptable level following Chelsea - Tottenham Wembley shambles

The Blues beat Spurs 5-1 in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday with help from a controversial strike awarded to Juan Mata despite the ball falling short of crossing the line
By Greg Stobart at Wembley

In a season of mind-boggling refereeing mistakes, Martin Atkinson’s decision to award Chelsea’s controversial second goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham on Sunday felt like the nadir.

So avoidable, so utterly senseless and ultimately, decisive in such an important game. That the Blues went on to win 5-1 to book a place in the final against Liverpool will hold little sway with the Spurs manager, players and supporters. It changed the whole complexion of the match.

"He must have [guessed]. I don’t think you can be sure, he’s just made a mistake unfortunately. The second goal was a disaster, it was nowhere near a goal. He’s made a big mistake, he hasn’t done it on purpose."

"Apparently it didn’t cross the line so in this case we were on the lucky side but many times before we’ve had decisions going against us. We didn’t just score two goals, we scored five so I’m not sure how much it matters."

"The latest planning meeting for test phase two was held on Friday, and the second phase of tests will commence before end of April, and will continue throughout May."

"Wonder how many more of these decisions will be made before the powers that be start to assist the officials. The headlines always seem to be anything other than on the quality of football played nowadays."
The Football Association are pushing Fifa for the introduction of goal-line technology but it has not come soon enough to reverse Atkinson’s shocking decision to allow Juan Mata’s goal in the 49th minute at Wembley. The ball was nowhere near the line, it barely reached it as it was kept out of the net by a combination of three players sprawled in the goalmouth. Even John Terry, the Chelsea captain, admitted he knew it was not in.

Atkinson may even have known he had got it wrong before the restart following the furious reaction of the Tottenham players. The goal stood and will dominate the post-match agenda.

Yes, we need goal-line technology as soon as possible, and Fifa have confirmed final tests on the proposed systems will begin later this month before football's rule-makers make a decision in July.

But we also need a better standard of refereeing. It has been a bad week, month and season for too many of the Premier League's officials and there is too much at stake. The goal-line technology debate should not cloud what was simply a terrible decision that Atkinson had no right to make.

Ironically, Atkinson will be going to Euro 2012 as an “additional assistant referee”, one of the completely pointless officials who lurk by the goal, with one of their main responsibilities to judge whether the ball crosses the line.

It has been a season to forget for Atkinson, who has typified the alarming drop in standards of refereeing, certainly in the big moments and the big games.

It was Atkinson who sent off Jack Rodwell in the Merseyside derby in October for a tackle that was barely a foul; he was also in charge last month when the officials failed to spot that Clint Hill’s header for QPR against Bolton had crossed the line. It could yet be a decisive moment in a relegation battle worth tens of millions of pounds.

And just a week before he blew the whistle to kick-off at Wembley, Atkinson was the man in the middle who failed to send off Mario Balotelli for a horror studs-up challenge on Alex Song.

Even with the introduction of goal-line technology, we will still be reliant on human error for the majority of decisions. It is concerning that so many key incidents - whether red cards, offsides or penalties - have been misjudged this campaign.

The nature of the players does not help: constantly appealing for decisions, berating the officials and, worst of all, diving to win penalties.
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But Atkinson’s season has been indicative of the especially poor standard of refereeing. Perhaps the answer lies in better training, maybe officials should be held more accountable when such mistakes are made.

Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, refused to be too harsh on Atkinson, acknowledging is was “an honest mistake” at the same time as claiming he had “guessed” the decision.

“I spoke to him and he said he feels worse than I do,” Redknapp said. "I said ‘I don’t think so’! He said he knows he’s made a mistake and he’s going to have a bad week as well.”

Too many referees have had too many bad weeks this season. The standard of officiating has dropped to an unacceptable level and it is fast becoming a farce.

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