Fulham v Middlesbrough: The FA's 'exceptional circumstances'
I'm not a fan of Andrew Johnson of Fulham. I think he dives or feigns contact for decisions, not regularly but often enough. He has, in his brief spell with Everton, wound up the LFC fans like the mischievous child who sticks his/her tongue out at you whilst shopping with parents or travelling in the car, for no good reason other than boredom.
Yet when I say he was very, very harshly denied proper justice yesterday following an horrific challenge by Middlesbrough's Julio Arca, it must have been something. Johnson and Arca went 50-50 for the ball at one point and the Argentinian placed his foot nowhere near the ball, and ended up nearer Johnson's knee than Johnson's own sock. Arca's foot then trailed down Johnson's leg towards his ankle.
Replayed on last night's Match Of The Day, you heard Johnson yell out in pain. I would submit that Arca's contact was not enough to severely injure Johnson but the placing of his foot made the contact look far, far worse than it probably was. Who knows how players genuinely react to sudden contact, Johnson thankfully was OK afterwards and did not suffer a leg break or anything like that. But astonishingly referee Keith Stroud gave Arca only a booking!!! When he sees the replay, he should be feeling quite ashamed to have registered he saw the incident and issued only a booking, because if he had, there is no question Arca should have been dismissed.
Middlesbrough's manager Gareth Southgate felt aggrieved at the penalty decision given against his defender Tony McMahon. McMahon and Fulham's Bobby Zamora went to challenge in the Middlesbrough penalty box and McMahon's attempted clearance spun up and came off his left forearm. Now replays showed, for me, that it was McMahon's momentum that led to his arm touching the ball. Referee Stroud didn't give the decision but alerted by his linesman, he did. From another angle, you could see the linesman in question not give the indication of a handball the moment it occurred but the crowd and a few players appealed immediately and he then indicated with his flag. He may have looked to give the benefit of the doubt but then found his mind made up by the appeals.
Southgate may well find himself on the end of yet another bad decision, but nothing was mentioned of the potentiality of Arca being dismissed. However, the FA spoke of intervening in 'exceptional circumstances' when they dealt with former Man City defender Ben Thatcher for his thuggish elbow contact on then Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes during the Man City v Portsmouth match, August 2006. They were quoted as saying: ".....the incident is being considered as an exceptional case. The FA contends that the challenge was sufficiently serious that had Thatcher been sent off, an additional sanction would have been merited."
I can compare Arca's challenge to that of Birmingham's Martin Taylor on Arsenal's Eduardo at St. Andrew's, February this year. Similarities are Arca made no contact with the ball; his foot was nowhere near the ball; it made contact directly with Johnson's leg and trailed down towards the ankle. The only exception is Arca didn't go as far as the ankle.
We have had the appeal over respect being paid to officials during the game, the FA should now reconsider about non-intervention in such circumstances. The publicity over Taylor's tackle is clear in the memory. Arca's was almost identical. We need to stamp this challenge out, it has nothing to do with football, it will cause another serious injury and it can end the footballing career of two players, much less one.
Eduardo enjoyed 45mins of a recent reserve game against Portsmouth, I believe, and I can't applaud that fact enough. I also believe Taylor is still with Birmingham. Both of them, as a result, could have walked away from football. If the FA will not re-consider intervention, then continue to expect the type of horror challenges and the resulting injuries we came to acknowledge at St Andrew's in February. Because the FA will not.