Moments In Time
Sport is very often dictated by fine margins, and football is no different. The difference between success and failure can sometimes be measured in inches, centimetres or even millimetres.
Crystal Palace’s second defeat in as many games at the hands of a resplendent Leicester City side of late was a game decided on the finest of scoreline margins. Succumbing to a single goal defeat against the Foxes, if anything, was another demonstration of just how tougher the Premier League is becoming and how important it is be to be on the right side of those marginal game changers.
We saw it around the Premier League this weekend with five of the six games being decided by a single goal. Chelsea being delightfully beaten by a late Andy Carroll goal, having in the first half been a whisker away from equalising while still having eleven men on the pitch. To the naked eye a goal, but technology showed that only 99.99% of the ball had crossed the line rather than the required 100%.
Meanwhile, Tim Sherwood seemed even further on the ropes, having given a lead away to Swansea City which leaves him teetering on the brink of becoming the latest managerial casualty in the Premier League.
The metrics that differentiate performance in this league make it increasingly important to do whatever it takes to be on the right side of those margins. The modern game has evolved with such ferocity over the last decade, meaning that increased tactical intelligence and awareness applied to the game afford teams less clear cut opportunities to narrow the gap.
It has also led to closer scrutiny on the means at which players seize on specific moments to grab an advantage. Leicester demonstrated that yesterday, seizing on a calamitous error by Brede Hangeland allowing Jamie Vardy to race clear of Scott Dann and finish well under pressure. A single goal lead. The finest margin of victory to keep their impressive run of form going.
The game at the King Power stadium had a number of key flash-points that could have factored into the outcome of the game and acted as an example of how crucial these moments within the ninety minutes can be.
The discussion that follows any Premier League game will often see decisions forensically disseminated by supporters, and yesterday was no different. Twitter was awash with debate about two particular incidents that could have significantly changed the course of the game.
Many felt that Wilfried Zaha was robbed of a stonewall penalty in the second half as Palace were chasing the game, tumbling theatrically before referee Mike Dean produced a yellow card for diving. Referees in particular bear the brunt of a lot of post-game focus, and yesterday was no different. Couple that moment with what appeared to be a handball in the box late on, and many of the Palace faithful felt that the referee had specifically cost the travelling side three points.
It seemed for all intent and purposes to be the right call from Mike Dean. While many argued that it was the wrong call, had the roles been reversed and the same occurred in the Palace penalty area I for one would be up in arms at the awarding of a soft penalty. Zaha resembled Ashley Young in the manner of his fall, with the dramatic throw out of the leg followed by the exaggerated body contortions. Was there contact? If there was, it was extremely slight and not enough to merit the awarding of a penalty. The focus on Mike Dean’s decision making should not mask the error that lead to the goal.
Brede Hangeland cost Palace three points yesterday, not Mike Dean. Wilfried Zaha’s dive was what it was – a dive. It was on his part an attempt to sway the referees decision into providing Palace with a route back in to the game.
The differing reactions on Twitter clearly suggest it was not as stonewall as people thought, and there is an argument to be made that the disagreements about it being a dive or not show exactly how marginal a decision it was.
Had a penalty been awarded, would I have been pleased? Damn right. Margins are fine and the Premier League is unforgiving. When decisions go for the side you support you can pass them off as luck. Sometimes cynically acquired luck, but luck nonetheless. But when the tables are turned, opinions can differ and the sense of injustice festers.
Palace should have had a penalty yesterday, but not for the Zaha moment. Does that make Mike Dean weak and naive? Possibly. But it should not deflect from the real key moment that cost Palace the game.