Unprofessional Foul


September 21, 2009

The Old Trafford Timekeeping

Big Hand, conferring with Little Hand

Big Hand, conferring with Little Hand

So did anyone happen to catch the Manchester derby yesterday?

Wasn’t much to talk about there, really. Just seven goals, injury-time drama, talking points galore, and the irritation of a win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at the death.

We’ll slot aside the fact that overall, United probably deserved the victory for their consistent attacking purpose (though Craig Bellamy deserved something for his renaissance, including that first goal… oh my), and focus entirely on the clockwatch at the end of the game.

To say that it was controversial is a bit of an understatement, but I’ll attempt to play Devil’s Advocate and explain things a little.

Ultimately, the extra “phantom” 90 seconds ought to have happened, and here’s why.

We’ll begin in that 90th minute itself; as the seconds ticked off towards the 90:00 mark, we witnessed two events: the ref’s assistant holding that sign up flashing 4 minutes to be added (seriously, besides that and babysitting managers, what else does that poor flack do?), and the Bellamy equalizer. Officially, it’s timed as the 90th minute; by the TV clock, it looked to be happening around the 89:55 mark if we were following at home. The official timekeeper clocked it at 89:54.

Bellamy, as you’d expect from a passionate individual and in such a highly-charged atmosphere, ends up on a :55 celebration that appeared excessive, though no bookings were issued (Bellamy was already on a yellow at the time). Once the game restarted, we’re already past minute 91 and heading towards minute 92 on our watches.

A Man United sub in the 93rd minute takes a further :30 to complete, so we’re up to almost 90 full seconds of additional stoppages that begin and extend past the 90th minute itself. Can you see where I’m going with this?

The stoppage time board, handled by the 4th official, is merely an advisement from the referee as to the additional time required to finish a full 90 minutes of game time. It’s not gospel, by any means, though we’d love to read it as such; ultimately, the ref’s discretion will take the added time as a minimum to be played, and in doing so, we can infer that the 90 seconds of stoppages during added time were simply added onto those 4 minutes in order to satisfy the referee that a full, sufficient period of added time had occurred.

Sure, it’s splitting hairs, but Atkinson is allowed to make that judgment. The 4 minutes was a starting point; taking into account those extra stoppages, we’re up to roughly 95:30 on the game clock. Naturally, United lucked into this situation but took full advantage; Owen’s goal came around 95:20-95:25 on the game clock, meaning that if we’re following the timekeeping to the exact second, it’s technically within the boundaries of what we should expect of added time: the 4 minutes, plus the :90 for Bellamy’s celebration/the Carrick substitution, and we’re there.

Then, we end up running into the 6th minute as United’s celebration took a while also, and thus, we have our bloated allotment of added time explained away. Hughes has it timed at :45 for their third goal celebration, but the point is they’re still cognizant that some extension was to be made by the referee in that situation.

Simply put, Atkinson was holding valuable seconds for every lackadaisical throw-in and goal-kick during added time (and to be fair, he reffed a decent game, playing lots of advantage and trying his best not to disrupt the flow of a feisty, pulsating contest) and adhering to his desire to play 4+ minutes at the end of the game.

It goes without saying that had United not scored a 4th, no-one would be griping about Atkinson’s watch, but them’s the breaks. Plus, it’s only natural for Hughes to shield his team from scrutiny (not that they deserve much) and to deflect criticism onto the officiating for what is a difficult derby day defeat.

I hate seeing him happy.

I hate seeing him happy.

Sure, it hurts, and yes, it pains me to side with the Reds for once, but in the aftermath, the referee is merely that deflection.

Of course Hughes and City have every right to feel aggrieved; they’ve just played their hearts out for 90 minutes and come back from a goal down on three separate occasions despite playing less than their best soccer and playing it without three of their best players in order to secure what they thought was a point at Old Trafford. If you’re a Citeh fan, it doesn’t get much better than that given the circumstances.

However, I’ll be the killjoy that points out United’s possession, shots on goal, corners etc. as being a more accurate representation of the match, as well as the shambolic, sleepy defending from Citeh that dug their own grave time and time again. Allowing Darren Fletcher to score twice is hardly a glowing review of your defensive capability, and that Rooney goal, while well-taken by the striker, was set up on a silver platter by some shockingly lax man-marking early in the contest.

For Giggs to pick out Owen like that… well, there are few players making that pass to begin with, and credit all round to the Reds (this is unbelievably painful to write) for that determination late on. From a nothing situation, the Welshman’s vision conjured a goal from nowhere.

If you’re a fan of an EPL contender, you can take solace from the fact that United aren’t what they used to be. Sure, they have a coterie of defensive midfielders they can deploy in bulk at any time, but Ferdinand’s injury history has caused him to lose a fair bit of pace, and Foster’s clearly no first-teamer just yet (one might argue he’s still better than the fading Van der Statue).

In spite of all this, they pulled off a derby victory, and they did so within the bounds of reasonable play. I just hope this doesn’t happen against Liverpool, as I don’t want to have to write another piece like this ever again.

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About the Author

James T