For a few seconds in Villa’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United, hearts went into mouths. After Mateusz Klich scored to put Leeds into the lead, salt was poured onto the wound after Anwar El-Ghazi was sent off for an apparent elbow on Leeds striker Patrick Bamford in the melee that followed the goal.
A lot has been said about the ‘goal’ - Villa should have played to the whistle, but Leeds feigned to kick the ball out before taking advantage of Villa’s confusion to score the goal. Either way, the situation was resolved as Marcelo Bielsa instructed his team to allow Villa to walk the ball into the net. Case closed.
However, there’s a fairly big talking point that might be overshadowed due to all of this. El-Ghazi’s red card was a massive mistake by a shaky officiating team that had been a bit off all match.
The red card? It was total case of assumption. Had the Assistant Referee actually seen Anwar El-Ghazi strike Patrick Bamford? No. He hadn’t. How can I be so sure of that being the case? Because it didn’t happen. It didn’t nearly happen and even if El-Ghazi had met Bamford’s face with his hands, it’d have been in a non-violent manner. Look at the clip below.
When the Assistant Referee sprinted over to the main Referee - Stuart Attwell - he was not hesitant in pointing out Anwar and displaying an ‘elbow’ motion to accuse El Ghazi of throwing an elbow against the head of Patrick Bamford. El Ghazi was then sent off having been shown a straight red card.
The concerning subject here is the speed with which the Linesman sprinted over to the Referee to deliver a verdict. He’d seen a violent motion from El Ghazi, or at least assumed that the elbow had landed, before sprinting over to the ref to demand the removal of El Ghazi. It was odd. While you have to expect mistakes to be made by human match officials, you’ve also got to expect that the benefit of doubt is shown when they cannot be 100 percent sure that something has actually happened. In this case the Linesman assumes that something has happened - but he cannot be 100 percent sure (because it actually didn’t happen, remember?) - and ensures a direct verdict is delivered. That verdict sent Villa down to ten men.
Why did this happen? We have to remember that at the time of El-Ghazi’s sending off, there were numerous incidents flaring up around the pitch. On the touchline, Dean Smith and especially John Terry were having words with the Leeds bench. Conor Hourihane had taken it upon himself to violently disrupt Mateusz Klich’s goal celebration. Patrick Bamford tussled with El Ghazi. There were numerous things happening on the pitch that the officiating team could not at all handle. There was nothing they could do to stop anything. It was totally out of control.
When it’s all kicking off, why not chuck some heavy-handed authority into the mixer to remind these players who’s in charge. Yellow cards were doled out - fairly - and why not? However, this was the call of Attwell, the ref on the pitch. It was all soured when the Linesman, for whatever reason, decided to sprint into the melee and suggest that Anwar El Ghazi had led an elbow into the face of Bamford.
The red card was authority for the sake of authority. It was an absolute decision made on baseless evidence. It was the whispering into an ear: “Go on, please let me be a part of this”. The best way to describe it? Odd. Strange. Pointless.
There’s a lot of blame heading towards Bamford for play-acting, but El Ghazi wasn’t even close to hitting the striker. In fact, Bamford was closer to hitting the back of the net than Anwar’s elbow was to hitting his face. While his feigning was odd - he wasn’t the man appealing for a red card. That fell onto the Linesman, who in power-rush decided to make a huge impact on the match.
Is there even a lesson that can be learnt from this? No. We should respect referees, but we should also offer criticism when it is reasonable to do so. The officiating team are there to protect players and ensure that a fair game of football is taking place, not to make an impact on the game themselves with in-just and stupid decisions.
As for El-Ghazi, it’s likely that his red card will be rescinded after appeal - making him available for the rest of the season (funnily enough if it was his second yellow, to result in a red card, Villa wouldn’t be able to appeal). However, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place and despite the weird goals on either side of the pitch, the red card ensured that Villa would not be in a position to win the game.