I THINK we’ve reached the stage where referees are looking for reasons not to give a penalty, rather than treating each incident on its merit.

Michael Oliver could have given three in Sunday’s Manchester derby, all to City, and Phil Dowd missed a couple in Monday night’s game between Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

Some players are going down too easily in the box and maybe that is playing of referees’ minds.

It’s a bit like Luis Suarez when he first came in at Liverpool. He had that reputation and suddenly found he was not getting penalties he should have.

You have to be strong mentally to treat every case differently and I don’t think that is happening on a regular basis.

It is okay blaming referees, and they do have to take individual responsibility, but sometimes you have to look at the root cause. Are referees getting the leadership and coaching they need from the very top? The answer is no.

The evaluation system used for referees is making them afraid to make the big decisions.

Michael Oliver is a good young ref but if you look at some of the incidents he’s been involved in over the last couple of weeks, was his confidence affected? Should he have been given the game?

I thought he was doing fine for the first 20 minutes of the derby, he’d let a few things go and seemed to be managing the occasion well, but then he let his tolerance levels slip by awarding a caution to Daley Blind and letting Gael Clichy, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta off with offences that were worse.

Things started to run away at that point. I know people will say Chris Smalling’s first yellow card was silly from his point of view – interfering with Joe Hart’s kick – but from a referee’s standpoint, in such a big game, he should have used some common sense.

Give him a public rebuke. Make it absolutely clear that you don’t want that kind of thing happening again. Give yourself somewhere to go. It isn’t, as some people think, a mandatory yellow.

If it’s the 85th minute then, fine, give him a yellow card. But I just think Michael could have managed it better because five or six minutes later Smalling went into a challenge that was worth a caution and the red card had to come out.

Going back to the first caution, I think Joe was lucky to get away with getting in Michael’s face as well. There is no way he would have tried that in a Champions League game.

City will feel they should have been out of sight. Michael couldn’t give the first two penalties because he was not in the right position – then didn’t have the conviction to give the third. I think he will be disappointed in his performance overall.

The Palace game gave us even more controversy. Sunderland should have had Santiago Vergini sent off very early on when he brought Frazier Campbell down. It was a penalty all day long. Then Patrick van Aanholt got away with another foul in the penalty area on Wilfried Zaha.

No wonder Neil Warnock was steaming. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when he phoned Mike Riley on Tuesday morning, because I doubt it would have been the other way round!


YOU’D be a brave man to mess with the man in the middle for this Friday night’s derby between Wanderers and Wigan.

A big game calls for a strong character and that’s exactly what you have got in Scott Duncan, a prison guard from up in Northumberland.

He has been around in the Football League for four or five years now and with this kind of match – one that would have been a Premier League fixture not so long ago – he also has the right kind of experience that is absolutely crucial.

When you are in charge of a local derby you know right away that the game is going to be passionate, played at a high tempo, and that the everyone is going to be pumped up.

What is crucial is that you managed the occasion. You need to be mentally strong because it can be a very testing environment; there are a lot of distractions on and off the pitch.

Most important of all, for me, is that you don’t start issuing too many cheap yellow cards and give the game a chance.

We saw in Sunday’s Manchester derby that Michael Oliver set his tolerance levels too low. Before half time he had to show a red card to Chris Smalling and, for me, it spoiled the game.

Of course you don’t want it to get out of hand and if you need to step in, of course you should do it.

But the people who pay good money at the Macron Stadium on Friday night are there to see a good football match and nothing would delight me more than reading the report in The Bolton News on Saturday morning without a controversial decision t discuss.

Speaking of controversy, I understand that Mike Riley and Howard Webb went to Holland last weekend to check on their video replay trial. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they thought, and whether it can be brought in to help our own referees in the future.


I KNOW for a fact that referees have done a lot worse than heading home on their own to attend an Ed Sheeran concert – so why was Mark Clattenburg hung out to dry again last week?

Mark was done for heading home on his own, and not with his match officials, so he could attend a gig with his wife in Newcastle. Big deal.

It’s a classic case of one rule for one, and one rule for another.

I sat in a meeting with the PGMOL two years ago and was told that if you leave the stadium on your own that you do so at your own risk.

And don’t think Mark is alone is doing that kind of thing because he isn’t. I’ve known referees to break protocol and do a lot worse – like being dropped off at the tube station after officiating at the Emirates – but they just escape with a slapped wrist, if that.

And yet here we are discussing another weekend in the Premier League where Mark has been declined a game, regardless of the fact he refereed a Champions League game between Malmo and Atletico Madrid in midweek. What sense is there in that?

He was also punished for speaking with Neil Warnock on the phone after the game – you are supposed to wait 30 minutes and do it in front of your assistants - but what didn’t get mentioned is that he was the one who reported it to the PGMOL.

The way he has been treated is wrong and I can’t help but think it’s motivated by the fact they don’t want him to referee at the European Championships next summer. They have someone else in mind whose face fits.


THERE are a few goalkeepers out there who could take some tips from Everton defender Antolin Alcaraz.

I saw one of the best saves of the season in the Toffees’ game against Swansea at the weekend but the problem is that Gary Monk’s side have been denied a clear-cut penalty.

How Kevin Friend has not spotted it is beyond belief but once again it boils down to getting yourself at the right angle to have a clear view of play.

A lot of refereeing comes down to making sure you’re in the right position to enable you to enforce the laws of the game. But if you’re not in the right place, sometimes you need a bit of help from your colleagues.

If you look at the Alcaraz incident Kevin wasn’t in the right position to award the handball and needed input from his assistant.

It was the same in the Newcastle-Liverpool game where Moussa Sissoko should have been given a red card for his tackle on Joe Allen.

The fourth official Lee Mason had a great view of the incident and he should have assisted Andre Marriner with his decision.