Are Bristol City guilty of ‘cheating’?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

Crystal Palace ghost goal

“We can put a man on the moon, time serves of 100 miles per hour at Wimbledon, yet we cannot place a couple of sensors in a net to show when a goal has been scored.”

This is only a small extract from Neil Warnock’s furious rant after his side lost 1-0 to Bristol City despite Freddy Sears scoring a perfectly legitimate goal in the first half. The referee failed to award the goal, instead opting for a goal kick after consultation with his assistant.

One can only wonder about the amount of money that the Palace boss’ wife saves during the festive period as the Warnock Christmas card list gets shorter and shorter. However on this occasion Warnock has a point.

The goal was clear cut. Everyone saw the ball hit the net. Everyone that is, but the officials. A quite remarkable situation followed.

The referee went over to approach his linesman, taking approximately 20 seconds to consult him before awarding a goal kick, much to the disbelief of Neil Warnock and the Crystal Palace team. It has since emerged that there was an ‘infringement’ spotted in the lead up to the goal which led to the Sears’ strike being cancelled out.

If there was such an infringement, surely the appropriate course of action would have been to award a free kick rather than to instruct the Bristol City keeper to take a goal kick.

The reaction of the Bristol City players could be likened to a pantomime. The City defenders in the box clearly show their disappointment after conceding at home. The midfield looks equally disillusioned seeing having seen Sears open the scoring for the away side.

However when Bristol Citys’ Paul Hartley and Jamie McAllister notice the commotion created by the referee running over to his linesman, they too sprint over to the officials, to have their say. What they are arguing over, only they know.

Indeed certainly the majority of players on that pitch saw the ball hit the back of the net, only for it to rebound back off the metal stanchion at the back of the goal and come back out.

In the post-match interviews Neil Warnock fumed about what he called the lack of sportsmanship on the part of the Bristol City players and staff. He ranted: “I thought Gary Johnson and his players could have shown more sportsmanship because they knew it was a goal, like everyone else. But I’m 60-years-old and maybe I expect too much.”

Indeed he also branded the failure of the opposition to act as his side were disallowed a perfectly good goal as ‘cheating’.

Controversial and often outspoken Palace chairmen Simon Jordan showed his normal subtlety with words.

Clearly angry at the outcome of the match Jordan said: “I think Bristol City cheated, I think they know it was a goal. Win at all costs is part and parcel of professional sport, but not by cheating. If it happened at Palace, I’d offer Bristol City another game, but they are gutless and they won’t.”

It is an interesting debate.  Gary Johnson said after the game his team were only ‘guilty’ of being the ‘opposition on the day’. A feeble attempt by Johnson to deflect the blame off his team and lay it squarely at the feet of the match referee Rob Shoebridge and his assistants.

Johnson has in the past shown admirable sportsmanship after his son scored for Yeovil Town when returning the ball after an injury to the opposition, Plymouth. Subsequently Johnson instructed his team to allow Argyle to go down the other end and score.

But on this occasion he felt that the officials had clearly spotted an infringement and his team were correct in playing by the whistle. There was no infringement, which is clear upon observation of the sequence of events that led to the goal.

Were Bristol City guilty of cheating?

Possibly. Cheating would be an extremely harsh word to use. A lack of sportsmanship? Yes, probably. However in this day and age when so much is riding on a game of football, it is difficult for teams to show that gentlemanly spirit even at the best of times.

To rub salt into Warnock’s wounds, Bristol went on to score in the final few minutes of the game, completing the great escape and snatching all three points from the grasp of the away side.

What can football learn from this incident?

There is a definite need for goal line technology. It took the referee the best part of 20-30 seconds to jog over to his assistant and consult him. If he had a microphone which allowed him to go to a video referee for help in making a crucial decision it wouldn’t take more than 20 seconds to deliberate and come to an accurate and ultimately correct outcome.

I am not an advocate of a video referee playing a part in every foul, questionable tackle or penalty decision. I love the authenticity of a football game where sometimes the referee will give an outrageous penalty which leads to banter among fans and great debate. After all nobody is perfect.

But when it comes to scoring goals, and the small amount of time and effort it would take to install a camera in the crossbar then surely it would be worth it in the grand scheme of all things football?

A Warnock rant is a joy to behold and often a source of great humour. But for once I feel an ounce of pity for the Palace manager, and should his team miss out on a promotion or a play-off spot by a narrow margin come the end of the year, there is no doubt that this will not be the last we hear of the phantom goal!

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