After a weekend of good football, it would have been easy to let certain refereeing decisions slide by, unnoticed and forgotten. Watching a game only a matter of hours ago, it was utterly perplexing to see a linesman again give an offside when the player who scored was clearly onside, level with the hindmost defender.
Luis Suarez, who had impressed throughout the match, slipped through the Fulham defense and lashed the ball home for what could have been Liverpool's winner. Instead, the linesman held up his flag in what was a borderline decision. As the rule stands, attackers are meant to be favored in these situations and seeing the replay, it is easy to see that Suarez was in fact level.
Five minutes later, Jay Spearing was sent from the field in a rather harsh decision which turned the match around completely. It had been going Liverpool's way before Dembele's writhing performance caused the referee to completely overreact. Fulham finally found their way into the match, the one-man advantage providing the catalyst for what seemed an unlikely victory.
It was perhaps poetic in one way that it was Danny Murphy's stinging shot that brought the mistake from Pepe Reina. The former Liverpool stalwart and now captain of Fulham was key in the stability shown by Fulham here.
Clint Dempsey capitalized on the Spaniard's spill for the goal, though the American can count himself lucky he was still on the field after his strange attack on Craig Bellamy after the Welshman made a sloppy, but not malicious, challenge on the US international.
Several other strange incidents cost certain teams this round, including Newcastle United whose excellent run was ended by Chelsea, but only after David Luiz was inexplicably allowed to remain on the pitch after dragging down Demba Ba as the last man. It was a clear red and a lucky escape for Chelsea manager Villas-Boas, who has come under increasing pressure in the last few weeks.
Should Luiz have gotten a red?
Newcastle in this case can feel justifiably aggrieved as a red card so early in the match would have seen a very different ballgame.
Another noticeably poor decision was when Sunderland were denied an equalizer with extremely poor officiating. In the last few minutes of injury time, Sunderland were awarded a free kick in the match at Moulineaux. The Wolverhampton defense advanced in an offside trap, and several of the Sunderland players were caught horribly offside.
The one who wasn't though, the Egyptian Elmohamady, received the ball and squared for what would have been a tap-in equalizer. The assistant's flag was up however, as he blindly waved it without thinking, seeing so many shirts offside but not taking account of where the player who received the ball actually was.
Another terrible piece of refereeing saw Bolton Wanderer's Gary Cahill sent off early in the match at White Hart Lane, severely depleting a struggling Bolton side and ruining what could well have been a good game of football. Bolton have started to improve in the last few rounds, and Harry Redknapp himself has said he will appeal the decision—a nice gesture from Redknapp, though he will be happy his side took the three points so easily.
It is a difficult job, that of the referee and their assistants, though in some cases they are just getting sloppy, taking away points that can cost clubs millions of dollars and lead to ignominy for players who have actually performed well and done their work effectively.
The assistants have gotten extremely jumpy with their offside flags in the past few seasons, disallowing legal goals on far too many occasions. All this despite a ruling made by FIFA in the '90s that the attacker is to be favored in such situations.
This is something that needs to be addressed because the disallowing of legitimate goals is not only bad for the game, it is bad for individual players as they miss out on deserved plaudits. Liverpool's Luis Suarez, for one, has been going through a lean period, and Sunderland as a team definitely need more goals.
David Luiz's red card that wasn't when it clearly was has righted a Chelsea ship that should really still be taking in water, and Gary Cahill can feel absolutely flabbergasted that he received a red, when there were other players covering Scott Parker's passage to goal. Jay Spearing made a good, hard midfielders tackle and wound up with an early shower, while Suarez's disallowed goal meant that Liverpool's run of good form was unjustly ended.
The FA needs to talk to its officials at least, and perhaps even give a couple of these guys a spell in the football league, as surely there are still referees out there who are not flighty.
On a weekend that produced some lovely football at times, it was disappointing to see so many crucial decisions executed so poorly. One can only hope that this is not a trend that continues.