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Wolves v Villa Match Highlights Problem With “Last Man” Rule

Peter Walton

For two weeks in a row now, glaring penalty calls have been missed in the early Saturday EPL game.  Wolves’ striker Kevin Doyle was fouled twice, by my count, when through on goal, and last week it was Villa’s Agbonlahor who was being tripped in the act of shooting.  (Here are the videos for the Wolves and the Villa incidents).

What’s interesting is the commonalities: Both incidents would have demanded a red card for the offender, and they both happened very early in the game (2nd minute for Wolves, 11th minute for Villa).  (I’ll set aside the fact that in both cases, the more-fancied team was given the benefit of any doubt).

It’s my feeling that referees are loathed to call a penalty that would also result in red card that early in the game.  Whether it’s human nature or a conscious decision, I reckon they don’t want to spoil the game by making 10 v 11 for 80+ minutes.

This highlights the problem with the so-called “last man” rule.  When it’s also a penalty, the double-whammy sanction is just too severe.  In both of these cases, the defender was making a genuine attempt to tackle.  If they’re off by a fraction, should they effectively forfeit the game?  Of course not.  But that’s what the rule calls for.

There’s another problem with the “last-man” rule – it’s sometimes too lenient.  If the foul is outside the area, and it’s late in the game, then it’s hardly a deterrent at all.

Here’s how I would change things:  I’d award a penalty for any foul in a clear goalscoring opportunity, no matter where it occurs on the pitch.  To me, that’s just common sense.  I’d then leave the red-card decision up to the referee.  If it’s flagrant – a hand-ball on the line, a rugby tackle with an open-goal gaping – then send the guy off.  If it’s a legitimate attempt at a tackle, then a yellow card is sufficient.

I know tinkering with the rules is often considered heresy, but I’m just getting sick of teams getting short-changed by referees who are too timid to make the right call.

What do you think?  Crazy talk or crazy-sensible?  Let me know below.

Phil McThomas runs the site – a super-smart football news site like no other.  You can follow him on Twitter – @SoccerShout.

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  1. Danny

    October 26, 2009 at 3:25 am

    I have been bitterly disappointed by the standard of refereeing in the EPL. I was expecting the standard of reffing to go up along with the standard of football after promotion but alas the former is definitely worse. The refs seem reluctant if not scared to call it how it is. Even worse is the lack of substance the assistant refs show. The assistant refs have been well placed to make calls on the incidents like Doyle and in the Sunderland/Portsmouth games (incidentally the handballing cheat did the same again this weekend and got away with it again). Enough is enough it is time football had the balls no pun intended to learn from the likes of Rugby and introduce the video ref. For all those who say NO IT WOULD RUIN THE GAME WITH THE LOSS OF FLUIDITY ETC that is alreay ruined by the fake players who make you think there is a sniper in the stadium. It should be used for inconclusive penalty shouts, ball crossing line doubt and the best one would be for simulatiors (nice word for cheats).

  2. ovalball

    October 24, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    The shame of it is, as the commentators noted, Doyle made an obviously conscious effort to keep his feet and finish the play, even though he was fouled.

    And we wonder why diving seems so prevalent.

    • Dave

      October 24, 2009 at 9:24 pm

      Indeed. It’s almost as if Doyle was penalized for trying to stay on his feet. That’s a terrible precedent.

  3. Duke

    October 24, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    As a newcomer to the beautiful sport, I have noticed a definite bias against calling penalties in the area, period. Other leagues don’t seem to be quite as reticent to call them as the EPL, but you can obviously get away with more in the box than in other parts of the field.

    If the refs don’t want to call it, lessen the penalty. I would say that a red card seems pretty stiff, but a PK seems in order. In any event, there’s no way someone should be able to get mugged like Doyle did without a call being made.

    • The Gaffer

      October 24, 2009 at 9:22 pm

      Good point Duke. When watching highlights of the Championship and League One and League Two, I’m continually amazed at how many penalties are awarded in those games compared to the relatively few (in comparison) in the EPL.

      The Gaffer


    October 24, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    By not allowing or not giving the ref to call fouls you are taking the power out of the hands of the player who is being fouled.

  5. Sarah

    October 24, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    I can’t really tell from that video if it even was a penalty. I am also under the impression that the actually penalty for wolves was also not 100% as the defender seemed to get the ball first, and then the player tripped over his feet.

    As for the last man sending off situation, well I like it as it is, not perfect but don’t think anything will improve on it.

    • Phil McThomas

      October 24, 2009 at 8:10 pm

      I think the actual TV football was pretty conclusive, even if the web videos aren’t.

      For the Doyle penalty, look at how he gets grabbed and turned around, even before he is tripped. I’d award a penna for the pull on his shoulder.

      • The Gaffer

        October 24, 2009 at 9:25 pm

        Good call Phil. Definite penalties.

        In TheGame Podcast earlier this week, Patrick Barclay was asked why players aren’t getting sent off early. He argued that the referees are under pressure to keep the games entertaining for the 90 minutes for the global audience. And sending off a player in the first few minutes will undoubtedly ruin the game.

        Ridiculous, I know.

        The Gaffer

        • Duke

          October 25, 2009 at 3:53 pm

          If this is the attitude, then why have the rule? It seems pretty simple to me:

          1) Change the rule to something that will keep the game “entertaining” for the full 90 minutes


          2) Start red carding players in the first few minutes.

          If you pick option number two, I’m guessing it won’t be long before the fouls stop. Having to play a man down for 80+ minutes is a good way to get the managers to convince the players not to foul.

  6. Bishopville Red

    October 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Anything that puts more power in the hands of the ref, thereby taking more power out of the hands of the actual players, is a bad idea. The last thing we need is a game where refs have a greater say in the outcome.


  7. man99utd

    October 24, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Whilst I agree the “last man” rule needs changing, I’m not sure I agree with your solution. I would be more inclined to change the rules to state that a foul in a clear goal scoring opportunity in the box would result in a peanlty but not a sending off, anywhere else a straight red. Or better still, remind the ref’s that if they want respect the clock can have no bearing on the call. In both circumstances mentioned in this article a penalty and a sending off was the letter of the law, even if occuring in the first minute.

  8. Matthew N

    October 24, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    The foul on Doyle at the very beginning of the game should have been a straight red. That was a great match, but Wolves got robbed. That is one of the most blatant penalties I’ve ever seen and it wasn’t even called…

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