YOU can understand why Lee Clark was enraged by Yeovil’s late equaliser on Tuesday night. Having punted the ball into touch after an apparent injury to defender Dan Burn, both Clark and his players expected it to be returned.
Instead, Glovers defender Byron Webster lobbed over surprised keeper Colin Doyle from 40 yards, sparking a bout of frenzied finger-pointing and touchline handbaggery.
“I might be wrong but my parents made me grow up to be a good sportsman, win lose or draw,” said Clark after his side went through on penalties. “I’m going to go down the right channels to complain. I think something has got to be done.”
So do I, but probably not what Clark has in mind. You see, I think Yeovil were within their rights to play on.
Burn had barely touched the floor before he was back up again. And with a 2-1 lead and seconds ticking away, it isn’t hard to imagine why Birmingham’s players proved so eager to knock it into the stand.
Now, this may be doing them a huge disservice. They may have been genuinely concerned.
But anyone who plays or watches football knows that the unwritten rule of returning the ball following an injury is widely and routinely abused.
How many times have you seen a team take the lead only for their players to be stricken with cramp or crippled by a non-existent challenge? How often does it occur during a prolonged spell of pressure for the opposition?
Once, you had to kick a team out of their rhythm. Now, you just fall on the floor, pretend to hobble around for 30 seconds and then smirk back into action when the ball comes sailing back. It’s not on.
During the 2006 World Cup, Portugal surpassed even their subterranean standards of fair play in the infamous battle of Nuremberg when, having taken an early lead through Maniche, they proceeded to flop around like beached fish for the best part of an hour.
By the end, opponents Holland were so incensed that they were refusing to give the ball back, further inflaming a contest that produced a world-record 16 yellow and four red cards. It seemed then that something must be done. It never was.
The thing is, though, I don’t think we need to get FIFA involved. The solution seems obvious: do what Yeovil did and stop giving the ball back.
If a player goes down, wait for the referee to stop the game. If he doesn’t, keep playing. That’s what they do in rugby, and injuries are a lot worse there.
Sure, kick the ball out if you want to. But if you know it ain’t coming back, you’ll do three things first.
First up, you’ll think twice about falling over. Secondly, the man on the ball will ask himself: ‘Is my mate really injured?’
Thirdly, he will then punt the ball as far up the field as possible.
No need for new rules. No need for stoppages or etiquette. Just a simple throw in up the other end. Your pal gets treated, then the game carries on as normal.
It would stop all the arguments and make for a better spectacle. Now, all we need to do is convince everyone to stop being so bloody sporting all the time.
SADLY THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY OUT FOR KNIGHT – THE EXIT
HUNDREDS of Bolton fans turned out to see a statue of club legend Nat Lofthouse unveiled at the Reebok this week.
But ask them which statue they care about most and it won’t be the one outside the foyer. It’s the one in the centre of defence.
Zat Knight is a proven centre-half with plenty of Premier League experience. But for some reason, he just can’t win folk over at the Reebok.
Talk to any Bolton fan – literally any – and they would all be happy to sell him. None rate him. None want him. Signed from Villa for £4m in 2009, he is the man they all associate with the club’s decline and ongoing malaise. For every good performance, they remember six bad ones. Or the day at Craven Cottage when he responded to his fans’ catcalls with a big daft grin.
That’s not to say Knight lives down to expectations. I’ve watched him plenty and never seen a stinker. But such is the power of perception. If three players make an error in the build up to a goal, his is the ricket that will be picked apart.
It reminds me of Danny Murphy, whose early games for Blackburn were wretched, exposing his age and lack of pace. Once he got to grips with the Championship, Murphy was no worse than anyone else, but the reputation stuck. First impressions and all that.
Bolton boss Dougie Freedman did 33-year-old Knight no favours by making him skipper. It has only to increased the resentment.
He is a decent player and doesn’t deserve the stick but it’s hard to see how he can win back the crowd. For everyone’s sake, I hope an exit is imminent.
WHY SKY BLUES ARE THE TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR…
DID you ever try to play football in front of a girl you fancied? Or hit a tee shot with six impatient old duffers behind you?
Bet it didn’t go as planned. That’s pressure for you. Things that come naturally feel as alien as ET with a set of eyes burning holes in your back.
The muscles tense, the legs stiffen, the brain freezes. The best sportsmen are the ones who can block it all out.
It’s the difference between Roberto Baggio and Zinedine Zidane, who both took penalties in a World Cup final.
Both were fabulously skilful. Both had dragged their team through the tournament. Baggio blasted over, Zidane chipped down the middle. One flapped, the other did not.
And surely it is pressure – or, more precisely, the lack of it – that is responsible for the deluge of goals at Sixfields this season.
In their first two games at their temporary home, Coventry have scored nine and conceded eight. That’s 17 goals in two games.
Now, it could just be that Coventry are deadly in attack and dreadful in defence but I don’t think so. I think it’s because nobody is watching.
Both games have been attended by just over 2,000 fans, with thousands staying away in protest at the move to Northampton. To the players of both sides, it must feel like a day at the park.
So instead of playing with discipline and inhibition, they play with freedom and abandon. Watch the highlights from either game and you’ll see an array of tricks, flicks and ambitious shots that are usually confined to the
Even their away games have been eventful, with two 3-2 defeats and a 4-0 win. More evidence for a dodgy defence? I’d say more evidence for pressure-free performances.
Coventry are broke, homeless and started the season on minus 10 points. They are runaway favourites for relegation and face extinction at every turn. For the players, match days are the only escape. They also know that little is riding on them.
So yes, Coventry are in dire straits. But the problems that have brought the club to its knees have also made them one of League One’s most dangerous teams. Visitors beware.