Ah, the role of the fourth official, funny one isn’t it really?
The role, as it would seem, is really quite straight forward. Put the numbers board up for substitutions and make sure the manager’s and coaching staff stay within their technical areas, and in doing so make as little fuss as possible.
At St. Andrews on Saturday fourth official Nigel Smith appeared to give a penalty kick to Birmingham City in the 93rd minute allowing them to take a vital 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest. Yes the fourth official gave it. I kid you not!
Now, first of all I need to make it clear that as a devout red this is not sour grapes at all.
Forest weren’t robbed. The ball clearly struck Britt Assombalonga’s arm on the line denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Penalty kick and a red card all day long, but the way the officials went about getting the right decision is fundamentally wrong.
The referee Geoff Eltringham was in a fantastic position to see the incident and as Blues players surrounded him he signalled that he felt Assombalonga had cleared the ball with his chest and proceeded to signal for no penalty and award a corner kick.
What happened in the next couple of moments was borderline farcical.
Fourth-man Smith, pressed his little button in his pocket to speak to the on-field officials and declared from a good 60 yards away that he was 110% sure that the referee was wrong and must award a penalty kick and send the player off.
After Eltringham had gone over to the dugout to discuss this further with the off-field official he decided that he would infact reverse his decision and award City a penalty, and in doing so trust a man who was as far away as Smith despite himself having such a good position.
Now, officials are there to make correct calls and in a roundabout way on Saturday they got there in the end so they must receive some praise for that.
I have often said that over the course of a season referee’s decisions even themselves out but in this case we have been cost a double whammy in losing a vital point on Saturday and now we must face a six pointer with Charlton on Saturday without the Championship’s top goal-scorer. Hardly fair is it.
By Lee Clarke