Derby manager sees red over sending off

 

IN THE late 60s, when Bill Shankly was their manager, Liverpool lost narrowly on a bumpy pitch at Southampton after being hustled and bustled out of their normal stride. Shankly, never a good loser, left The Dell fuming.

"It was ale house stuff," he rasped. "These referees, they know the laws but they don't know the game." If my memory is correct, the referee that day was Maurice Fussey, a tall angular man famous for his high stepping knee jerking sprints to keep up with the play.

At the Baseball Ground on Saturday, again on an uneven surface, Roy Evans's Liverpool team found themselves back in the public bar amid the spit and the sawdust, only this time they won the argument with a goal cleverly conceived and neatly executed. And again the losing manager, Derby County's Jim Smith in this case, was less than enamoured by the referee.

Now Smith is one of English football's worthier citizens. He has been around, possesses immense experience and is now doing his darndest to preserve Premiership status for Derby as they prepare to move into a new stadium next season. But his case against the Loughborough referee Peter Jones left one wondering if the reverse of Shankly's assertion concerning knowledge of the laws but ignorance of the game applied to football managers.

Smith's displeasure arose from Jones's dismissal of Darryl Powell in the second minute of the second half. As Bjorn Tore Kvarme went to control a bouncing ball, Powell raced 30 yards to launch a reckless high challenge which caught Liverpool's new Norwegian defender on the shin with a crack that could be heard at the back of the stand.

The referee had a clear view of the incident and sent Powell off for serious foul play. "He did come in late," Smith admitted afterwards, "clumsily really, but it wasn't intentional. It was not an attempt to do a player."

The Derby manager is behind the times. The grey area of intent has been removed from all fouls and misconduct except handball. Jones did not have to guess what was in Powell's mind. He saw a rash tackle which, in his opinion, amounted to a serious offence, and under the present interpretation of the laws that warranted a red card.

Smith did not help his argument when, in reply to the suggestion that Powell had caught Kvarme with his follow through, added that "it might have been the dive as well". This was nonsense and even the mild mannered Evans was moved to retort that "to even suggest that Bjorn took a dive is totally out of order. It would be totally dishonest to say that".

At least Smith did not go along with the suggestion that this was another example of foreign thespianism. "I've known some English players who have been very good divers," he reflected Yes, and the daddy of them all, Francis Lee, once played for Derby.

The reality on Saturday was that by the end of a scruffy, scrappy but generally cleanly fought match, Derby might well have been reduced to nine men. For within five minutes of Stan Collymore scoring what proved to be the winning goal, Jason McAteer had been caught in the face by the Croatian elbow of Aljosa Asanovic, who seconds earlier had been wrestled to the ground by the Liverpool player.

Had the referee been given a clear view of that incident, Derby would have faced the prospect of losing their best player to a three match ban at a time when their resources have already been hit by injuries and suspensions. Smith's are not playing that badly and lack nothing in determination but they have not won a league fixture for two months, the goals are beginning to dry up, and they are only three points above the bottom trio.

In the first half, when both teams were at full strength, there was little to choose between Derby and Liverpool. In the end, however, the difference lay in the finishing.

Ten minutes before half time, Robin Van Der Laan headed a long free kick down to Dean Sturridge and then moved through the defence to meet a neatly delivered return pass. The Dutchman's shot beat David James but swung away past the far post.

A quarter of an hour from the end, a patient Liverpool build up of eight passes, with Steve McManaman heavily involved, took the play from left to right and back towards the Derby penalty area. Jamie Redknapp dummied over McManaman's pass, throwing the defence, and after Robbie Fowler had squared the ball to Collymore, the striker further fooled Derby by making to shoot with his right foot and then turning to score with his left.

According to Smith "it wasn't a made goal. They miskicked and it just fell right for them". Nice to know that the dogged, totally illogical spirit of Shankly in defeat lives on.

As Evans conceded, Liverpool were not a pretty sight in this match but after their collapse at Chelsea in the FA Cup six days earlier they had achieved both victory they needed to keep up with Manchester United at the top of the Premier League, and a committed performance to go with it.