Controversial refereeing decisions have become commonplace in the Women’s Super League but the latest might prove to be a defining one in the title race this season.
Arsenal faced Manchester City in the questionably scheduled Sunday evening fixture yesterday, with a chance to increase their lead at the top of the WSL.
Chelsea had dropped points earlier in the day, after being held to a goalless draw by Brighton, while victory for the Gunners would give them much needed momentum, following a run of five defeats in six matches.
In the end, a first league goal of the campaign for Tobin Heath in stoppage time salvaged a point for Jonas Eidevall’s side, but should his team have been behind in the first place?
Midway through the second half, with the score at 0-0, a heavy deflection off the referee released City’s Lauren Hemp into acres of space. The English forward dribbled to the byline –– drilled the ball across the box –– straight into the path of Khadija Shaw, who found the back of the net.
IFAB rules dictate that if the ball touches an official, remains in play and leads to a team starting an attack, a drop ball must be contested.
Evidently, the referee failed to implement this rule, which understandably infuriated Eidevall. The Swedish manager was booked for the second game in a row for his protests, having also been cautioned in mid-week against Man United.
Speaking afterwards, the Arsenal boss was perhaps less harsh in his criticism than many expected but called for more money to be spent on training officials properly.
“If they’re going to be on Sky Sports refereeing matches they should be given all the resources that they need in order to prepare, practice and work on their fitness,” he stressed.
“I think that’s where we need to help each other in the football family. I’m much more [about] trying to raise the standard around refereeing because that will do that.
“I was not happy about that goal. We all make mistakes. I do. I totally understand that. It’s part of football. I think the referee can also understand why we get upset.”
Even City boss Gareth Taylor admitted his team’s goal should not have stood, though he suggested these wrong decisions would even themselves out among all teams throughout the course of the season.
“We’ve been on the wrong end of that this season on many an occasion with refereeing decisions so it was nice if that was the case that one went our way.”
Yet, there is no guarantee this decision will be ‘evened out’ this campaign –– especially if they now go on to miss out on a league title by a narrow margin.
The league last season was decided by just two points and yesterday’s refereeing error arguably cost the Gunners a shot at winning the game.
Chelsea fans will argue this is karma. Earlier in the campaign, Beth Mead scored a match-winning goal against the Blues which was clearly offside but not given.
Nonetheless, both Emma Hayes and Eidevall are in unanimous agreement on the need for investments into officiating.
Referees in the WSL at the moment are semi-professional and it is thus unfair to criticise them too severely.
The FA say the cost of implementing such measures are too expensive at this stage. Many would argue, however, that you can’t put a price on a fair playing field.