EXCLUSIVE: Referees launch clampdown on holding in the penalty box after Stoke's tactics against Everton causes storm
PLUS Former World Cup referee Graham Poll on the difficulty detecting the pushers, holders and blockers
12:49 GMT, 17 December 2012
Referees are to clamp down on holding in the penalty area in a move which will see Stoke City's defensive tactics come under the spotlight.
Stoke have acquired a reputation for rough-house tactics with Maroune Fellaini taking particular issue with Ryan Shawcross's physical approach on Saturday.
Hold on a sec: Ryan Shawcross holds Maroune Fellaini (left and right)
during the 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday. Sportsmail
understands referees are set to clamp down on such foul play
VIDEO: Match highlights from the Britannia – Stoke 1-1 Everton…
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REMEMBER THE LAST CLAMPDOWN
Mike Dean was the centre of attention at Bramall Lane in September 2006, when he awarded three penalties in the last 20 minutes of a Barclays Premier League match between Sheffield United and Blackburn.
First, on 70 minutes, Blackburn's Benni McCarthy went down theatrically under pressure from David Unsworth, but Paddy Kenny kept out Lucas Neill's spot-kick.
Seven minutes later, United's Rob Hulse had his shirt tugged in the box by Zurab Khizanishvili, with a penalty contentiously awarded by Dean. Hulse saw the kick saved by Brad Friedel.
A handball decision against Neill, spotted by Dean's assistant Mike Cairns, four minutes from time gave Hulse a chance to atone – but he was again denied by Friedel and the game ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
Now, Sportsmail understands that elite
group of Barclays Premier League referees have decided enough is enough
and plan to penalise players for holding, pushing and shirt-grabbing at
set-plays. If the ball is in play, a penalty will be awarded.
The Potters are not alone, with many strikers becoming frustrated that top-flight defenders have been able to get away with impeding them in this way for so long.
Everton midfielder Fellaini reacted with a shocking display of physical violence when he headbutted Ryan Shawcross at the Britannia Stadium, but it is not the first time that Shawcross and Stoke have been criticised for their approach.
Two years ago, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger accused the Potters of playing 'rugby' instead of football. That provoked Stoke to lodge a complaint with the FA.
In 2010, Wenger said: 'You cannot say it is football any more. It is more rugby on the goalkeepers than football. When you see the way Shawcross kicked Heurelho Gomes, how Robert Huth pushed Gomes in the goal, you cannot say that is football anymore.'
The evidence was clear on numerous highlights programmes over the weekend as foul play in the Stoke penalty area was broadcast.
Mail chief sports writer, Martin Samuel today called for officials to
take action on this issue and it seems the the festive fixtures will
provide the test ground for new focus at set-plays.
wrote in his regular Monday column: 'It was still illegal to hold on to
another player to prevent his movement. Meaning the first foul that was
committed in the Stoke City penalty area in the 59th minute on Saturday
was by defender Ryan Shawcross.
does not justify Marouane Fellaini’s reaction, and is only the tiniest
mitigation for an incident that will almost certainly end with a
three-match ban for the Everton player, but it is nevertheless an
Not just Stoke: Ciaran Clark of Aston Villa grapples with Stoke's Kenwyne Jones earlier this month at Villa Park
'For it makes plain that what happened on Saturday, a clash that could have ended in serious injury, a fractured cheekbone or broken nose, was a direct result of football’s decision to allow wrestling matches in the penalty area.
'Fellaini assaults Shawcross primarily because he is being prevented from playing, illegally, and Mark Halsey, the referee, appears happy to let this continue. Football has never had more policemen and yet such little interest in implementing the rules.'
GRAHAM POLL'S OFFICIAL LINE: HOLDING IS EASY TO DETECT, IT'S BLOCKING THAT IS HARD TO PENALISE
Ryan Shawcross clearly did not deserve to be butted on Saturday but he should have had a penalty awarded against him for holding Marouane Fellaini.
While PGMOL chiefs are very happy with officiating so far this season, cautions are down, particularly those for dissent, the one issue that stands out is holding and blocking at set pieces.
A compilation of examples will be put together and shown to referees to get commitment from them to punish this offence more often and in a consistent way.
Stoke City are bound to feature in that DVD, not exclusively of course, but the way Shawcross clearly held Fellaini is one example of many.
Holding and blocking at set pieces has been raised as an issue many times before and is seen as difficult to clamp down on due to the consequences and likely reaction.
Firstly the offence starts to occur before the ball is in play and so cannot be punished by a free kick until the ball is played. If the referee stops play before the ball is played then he could caution the offender for unsporting behaviour but play would still restart with the corner or free kick that was delayed.
That is why you often see the referee stop the kick being taken and warn the players to stop holding. This has stopped being an effective deterrent as so few follow up on the warning.
The second issue is that once the ball is played some defenders stop holding the opponent and so there is no offence to punish. However, that is happening less frequently as defenders are realising that referees are ignoring the offence which is not hard to detect.
Go back to Shawcross at the weekend and Fellaini. You could clearly see Shawcross’ arms wrapped around Fellaini, preventing him from jumping for the ball. Referees are trained to watch the ‘drop zone’ at set pieces rather than the ball in the air as nothing happens to the ball.
Blocking offences are more difficult to detect but one which always stands out is Kevin Nolan on the opposing goalkeeper. Whichever team he plays for Nolan has always stood on the ‘keepers toes, sometimes literally. It started when he was at Bolton and they faced Arsenal knowing that Jens Lehman was always put off by such actions.
I used to ask him to step away which he refused and so I awarded a free kick as soon as the corner was taken and told him that I would do so at every corner. Two free kicks and he would move away, so it can be cured.
Rough stuff: Shawcross catches Man City's Mario Balotelli with his arm last season