Pitchside

Did Brendan Rodgers have a point about referee Lee Mason?

Pitchside Europe

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Firstly, it must be said that there is no shame in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.

City are the best team in England at home – they are yet to drop a Premier League point at Eastlands this season – and it was a thrilling, end-to-end match at the Etihad.

Liverpool are also arguably victims of their own success.

While he has been shaky at times, Simon Mignolet’s blunder to palm in Alvaro Negredo’s weak shot was the Belgian’s first costly error of the season in terms of points.

He is a very good player but, at the moment, is not in the world-class category; he is not even Belgium’s best keeper, with Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois arguably a more dominant number one.

There are also a few shortcomings in defence. Liverpool have a competitive squad that should see them return to the Champions League, but they have got ahead of themselves thanks to Luis Suarez, and are probably a top-four as opposed to a title-winning side.

Brendan Rodgers’ emotional reaction afterwards, however, could prove almost as costly as Mignolet’s blunder to let Negredo’s weak shot slip through his fingers.

"I thought we never got any decision," Rodgers said afterwards.

"I thought it was throughout the evening. Hopefully we don't have another Greater Manchester referee again on a Liverpool-Manchester game."

Rodgers’ comments clearly imply bias from the officials, and referee Lee Mason in particular. The implication is that Mason supports or at least favours one of the Manchester clubs – never mind he is from Bolton – and that these presumed preferences impede his judgement.

Sir Alex Ferguson was fined £12,000 for a less clear-cut implication of bias last season, when he said “there was no way we were going to get a decision from (Simon) Beck” in a match against Tottenham. Rodgers went further, and can expect to pay a steeper fee, unless his inevitable chat with referee chief Mike Riley somehow elicits sympathy. He could even be slapped with a touchline ban. The FA is certainly going to act, having confirmed an investigation into the comments.

But did Rodgers have a point?

There are two clear instances where Liverpool can feel aggrieved.

1. Sterling offside (19 minutes)

Raheem Sterling was around two yards onside when an errant flag saw play pulled up – Luis Suarez had sent the England winger clean through, and there is no doubt he would have found the net even had Joe Hart not stopped in his tracks.

However, that was the assistant referee’s fault and – while it was a poor lapse in judgement – we cannot blame linesmen for getting these decisions fractionally wrong when the game is played at such speed, and when officials do not have the benefit of technology to aid them.

We cannot expect ordinary men (and women, although Sian Massey is quicker than most middle-aged men) to get it 100% correct in the face of ridiculously fleet-footed teenagers and world-class off-the-ball movers. Not without some help, help that is available but ridiculously remains illegal.

Still, it was clearly onside and has to go down as an error from the assistant (not the ref, who is reliant on his linesman in these situations).

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Some reacted with ironic humour to the error - even City admitted it was poor


2. Lescott foul on Suarez (89 minutes)

Suarez – who did not have his best game – was pulled in the box by Joleon Lescott late in the game. This should have been a penalty, and the referee should have awarded it. However, Suarez’s reaction – a theatrical swan dive – did not do him any favours.

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Additionally, Martin Skrtel was at it all game, repeatedly tugging the shirts of opponents at corners. On one occasion it was sufficient to put Vincent Kompany off his header; on another, the Belgian still managed to leap higher than the Slovak to score the equalising goal. Clearly Mason had elected to ignore shirt pulling, which is unacceptable, but the leniency was applied equally to both teams.

In addition to Skrtel’s misdemeanours, it could be argued that Glen Johnson could have been dismissed for a late and cynical foul to prevent Aleksandr Kolarov racing away, while Suarez was fortunate that his frustrated high boot on Joe Hart did not result in a red card. Hart, to his credit, bounced straight up to play on. Players have been shown no mercy for those challenges in the past, as Didier Drogba will testify.

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We can all probably agree with Rodgers that the standard of officiating was poorer than one would expect for a game of this magnitude. Mason is a decent referee but he is probably not in the top three on the Select Group list. But to imply bias – which is unjustified as mistakes were made at both ends – is ridiculous.

Rodgers will be made acutely aware of this when he is punished by the FA. But, like Fergie before him, it is likely a calculated gamble. The furore surrounding those decisions will dim the spotlight on Mignolet, and on poor Sterling, who missed a sitter in the second half on the one occasion Hart was beaten.

By making himself a lightning rod without indulging in ill-advised mind games with other managers, Rodgers will hope his players feel a sense of injustice and defiance, and use this as future motivation.

While Rodgers is correct to question the quality of officiating, certainly the tone of his attack - to accuse the referee of bias towards an unspecified Manchester club - is unjustified.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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