By Jeff Brazier
If I told you the Spireites have suffered 4 serious impact injuries this season but only one yellow card and one free kick was issued in response to all incidents, would you be surprised? Chesterfield fans are not only surprised, they’re incensed and that’s putting it mildly.
The latest blow came as Jak McCourt suffered ligament damage in the 3-2 defeat against Solihull at the weekend. This follows a similar blow experienced by striker Kabongo Tshimanga meaning two probable season ending injuries in back-to-back games.
Add the broken kneecap experienced by George Carline away to Wrexham which has also ended up being a season ending injury due to a setback and the fractured eye socket suffered by Gavin Gunning at home to Eastleigh and you've got to wonder whether all of these knocks are just desperately unlucky or, are the players going unprotected?
I was at the Solihull defeat at the weekend, a game always likely to have a physical edge. You assumed the referee knew what he was doing after playing advantage following the tackle on Jak McCourt, after all he was right over it, but to not instantly return to the player, instead obsessing about booking Khan and waiting for Khan to turn and face him so he could see his punishment became very uncomfortable because it was evident to the other 8,000 of us that McCourt wasn't getting up.
Why were his assistants not communicating the player’s agony to him if he missed the extent of its seriousness? At the very least give the free kick, attend the player on the floor, and then go and book the player when the physio is rushing on at the first possible moment? Speed is important right? For the player’s sake when you suffer a break or ligament damage you want someone to get to you straight away not in a minute – that’s too long! So, was it an indefensible error of judgement to not protect player welfare in the first instance?
I saw an earlier example to support that notion when Jamey Osbourne pulled up with a groin injury and stayed down beyond the half time whistle only for the referee to walk off lacking any apparent concern for the needs of the player. Is this common practice? I know he can’t treat the player, but should the referee be straight over there to ensure that the player is ok before heading off for a cup of tea? Am I expecting too much compassion from the man in the middle?
It’s sometimes too easy to insinuate that the referee was overwhelmed by the occasion but the Vanarama has significantly improved on the pitch and with the calibre of managers and coaches in the dugout, so it goes without saying that the quality of officiating would need to mirror those developments, or it will stand out for the wrong reasons.
Accidents will happen in football and it’s very possible for a player to sustain a break or dislocation without a foul being committed. On reviewing the Kabongo Tshimanga incident it’s clear he is unlucky. It’s a robust but fair tackle with a terrible outcome. Gavin Gunning’s eye-socket damage caused by a boot to the face appeared clumsy but accidental.
Regardless of how we see those decisions you also can’t deny that Chesterfield have another issue and one that they do have to be accountable for and that’s players being dismissed in key games. Curtis Weston’s aggressive response on Saturday was an unnecessary risk and the hero v Eastleigh a few games prior quickly gave the advantage to Solihull which ultimately cost them the game.
Jeff King is a key player for Chesterfield’s title aspirations and was rightly sent off v Stockport in what was ironically a good example of how a player endangering an opponent with a reckless challenge should be judged, but why was that not consistent with the tackle on Jak McCourt? They were on a par with one another in my book.
Contrast that with the George Saunders break for Dagenham v Spennymoor Town. It wasn't actually given as a foul but because of the regrettable outcome the opponent was given a straight red. Is that the right way to deal with these kind of incidents? In the absence of blame, why punish?
Clearly players being hurt is the side of the game we don’t want to see but we accept it when accidental because otherwise no one would play. I understand we should punish those who are endangering others by being overzealous, but this isn't solely about the players.
The demand moving forward is that the 4 officials can convince anyone that they actually communicate with each other, especially when games should be halted (irrespective of score lines and phases of play) so medical attention can be delivered instantly and appropriately. I also want to see the referees exit the pitch after any player requiring treatment following the HT/FT whistle. How much is it to ask for consistency across the 5th tier officials on anything concerning player welfare?
Paul Cook spoke about managing disappointment in yesterday’s press conference. They’ve had more in the last week with injuries and suspensions than they have over the rest of the season. There’s a lot for them to overcome and it’ll be one hell of a game at the Technique Stadium when Wrexham visit tonight. I just hope the league send one of their more experienced referees because I'm not sure the Spireites could stomach anymore injustice than they feel they already have.