Another week of football, another week of contentious officiating.
The last seven days have seen the airwaves strain to the sounds of injustice and newspaper columns burst with condemnation for the men in black. But,to make a very pleasant change, Chelsea have largely been on the right side of the referee’s whistle.
To set the ball rolling, the second leg of the Champions League encounter against Benfica saw the officials look kindly upon the Blues with a number of decisions that favoured the home side. That is not to say that all of them were wrong but the borderline calls by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina generally fell Chelsea’s way.
Consider the penalty award. Yes, it was a clumsy challenge by Javi Garcia on Ashley Cole and – in my eyes - warranted a penalty but how many times have you seen a coming together like that not punished with such a damning verdict? Even in the short time between now and the end of the season I venture that you will see plenty of far more obvious spot kicks not given by the man in charge.
Maxi Pereira’s sending off – which threatened to kill the tie but did anything but thanks to Chelsea proving utterly incapable of keeping possession even against ten men – could possibly be viewed as harsh if you are one of those who feel that a player on a yellow card should be given a warning rather than his marching orders for his next transgression. But even accounting for such blue-tinted glasses, Chelsea fully deserved to be in the last four of the competition irrespective of the bitter comments of the Benfica manager Jorge Jesus. Among the flouncy-haired (think an ageing continental Simon Jordan) Portuguese’s gripes was his claim that the worst team lost the tie which somewhat fails to take into consideration that if his team was that good then how the hell did they allow such celebrated performers as Salomon Kalou and Raul Meireles to both score against them over the two legs?
It was a clear case of sour grapes from Jesus – now there is a sentence I never through I’d write – but his counterpart at Wigan Athletic had every right to feel aggrieved by the officials during their 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s display on Saturday ranked as one of the worst of an inconsistent if exhausting season (with Florent Malouda chief among those who massively under-performed) yet they still emerged with victory – something wholly attributable to two moments of myopia from assistant referee Dave Bryan.
Branislav Ivanovic – who, yet again, was one of the shining lights in a blue shirt – must have been a clear two yards offside when he scored the game’s opening goal yet Bryan inexplicably missed it. Even from my viewpoint in the Matthew Harding Lower Tier with an angle 90 degrees worse than the all-important flag-bearer the free-scoring Serb looked to be in an illegal position. But no flag was raised and the goal stood. To compound matters for the Latics, their spirited response that yielded a fine goal from substitute Mohamed Diame was undone once more by Mr Bryan who allowed Juan Mata’s injury time winner to stand despite him standing in an offside position when Fernando Torres struck the initial shot that cannoned off the woodwork. Had Chelsea not needed the three points so desperately to pursue ambitions of finishing in the top four, I might have actually felt genuine sorrow for the Lancashire men and their carload of travelling fans.
Roberto Di Matteo’s fortune appeared to be extending to Easter Monday’s west London derby against Fulham when the hapless Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot on the stroke of half time after Kalou fell to the turf inside the penalty area. Countless replays proved inconclusive and while my personal opinion is that the decision was the correct one, I can also see the counter-argument especially in light of Clattenburg’s curious explanation that he did not penalise Danny Murphy for challenging with both feet off the ground but in fact saw a trip by Stephen Kelly who quite clearly did not touch the Ivorian. However, it seems that that call was the end of Chelsea’s line of credit. A blatant push on Frank Lampard by Brede Hangeland in the penalty box was missed in the second half and a soft late equaliser by Clint Dempsey via Gary Cahill ensured that there is still a mountain to climb if fourth place is to be claimed ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle.
While it was nice to have the rub of the green while it lasted, one shudders to think what might happen in the next fortnight if Lady Luck has deserted us altogether. An FA Cup semi-final with Spurs, a double header against a certain Catalan outfit and a trip to Arsenal will all require not only excellent performances but also a large dose of fortune.
Will Providence continue to smile upon Chelsea? My heart says yes but my head disagrees.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell