Tony Cascarino, Paul Lambert and why Norwich City need TV

I made up my mind early last week to talk about penalties in my column today – honest. Although it was probably naive to think we would get through a Norwich City match without them adding to the debate in some way.

Regarding the Canaries, and regardless of whether you think they lacked any quality against West Brom on Sunday, the penalty awarded against City was quite simply a joke.

The lack of a decision after James Vaughan welcomed Gabriel Tamas’ elbow into his face was a shocker too – although even my immediate reaction from the Press box was ambivalent to the foul.

Despite being missed by referee Mark Halsey and his assistant – unlikely to be offered a pint in this city’s public houses any time soon – it would have taken the fourth official seconds to see a replay, tell Halsey and ensure Tamas was dismissed and Norwich were rightly awarded their spot-kick.

The debate on replays may be for another day – although you wonder whether that day will ever come.


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Graham Poll said earlier in the week decisions are going against Norwich because they are not a big club in the eyes of Premier League officials, whose decisions are “sub-consciously” affected by which team is doing the damage and who is on the receiving end.

As it happened, at Colney on Friday I asked City boss Paul Lambert if he thought Norwich’s status was playing a part in their lack of breaks from officials so far.

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“You’d hope not, because you have earned that right to play against those teams,” said Lambert – before Sunday. “If you have that mentality you’re new and you’re going to accept things, then you end up getting it against you every time – so I think you have to stand up for yourself, that’s for sure.” No question City have done that. Yet it isn’t just Carrow Road where penalty decisions are being called into question.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is the latest threatening to unbutton his lip if he doesn’t see things even themselves out over a few weeks, let alone the season. Nowhere in the football rule book – I assume one exists somewhere, bound in something cheaper than kangaroo skin – does it say contact has to equal a foul.

But that is where we are – every game, every brush of legs, needing a yes or no decision. Especially inside a penalty area.

Not only is that a change in football, it is annoying, breeds dishonesty and leaves you incredulous when no one will take the introduction of television replays seriously.

Speaking on The Game podcast, pundit Tony Cascarino got it spot on: “In the modern game there are players hellbent on trying to deceive everybody.

“Football is riddled with cheating and taking advantage. It’s one of the only sports where you get patted on the back if you cheat. It was bad last year and I thought, ‘Could it get worse this season?’ And the evidence so far is quite clearly yes – because penalties are awarded so easily and players are brilliant at conning referees.

“They get defenders to stretch out a leg and as soon as they see it they go for it. Defenders must be absolutely scared to death.”

I don’t believe the errors all come down to problems with referees – although they naturally end up as the final focus.

But in between all of Graham Pools big statements in his national newspaper column there was one little nugget that I thought told a real story.

On the decision at Carrow Road last month which saw Stoke awarded a penalty for a foul by Leon Barnett that arguably took place closer to the halfway line, Poll said: “The referee was Neil Swarbrick, a new official to the Premier League who on that showing will have to wait quite a while before refereeing at Old Trafford or Anfield.”

And with that attitude, if Swarbrick does ever get to step on such hallowed turfs, don’t expect him to give the visitors much – be it Norwich or anyone else.

Just saying…

• Esteemed Peterborough Evening Telegraph journo Alan Swann on City: “Oh dear, a manager who still believes signing lower league players is the way to survive at Premier League level.” He’s a good man, Swanny – but here’s hoping City make him eat those words.

• Manchester City are playing some wonderful early season football. Keep doing that by the time a cold December comes around, and I’ll be impressed. English football is full of flashes in pans, however good they are to watch at the start.

• Tony Fernandes has already chucked a few pounds at his new sports baby, Queens Park Rangers, while vice-chairman Amit Bhatia has said they have budgets sorted for years two and three if they stay up. I’d be more worried about the budgets if you went down, Mr Bhatia…

• Watching the Championship at the weekend, it doesn’t take long to be reminded of the vast gap in class compared to the top flight. Maybe apart from the refereeing.

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