Everyone knows what the major talking point was from this game. The penalty that wasn’t. Well, according to the officials it wasn’t.
Referees regularly get blamed for all manner of things even when they’ve got things right and are proved correct.
Stuart Attwell - not a referee I think is particularly good - got lambasted here. Rightly in my eyes. But I’m going to offer up some form of defence for him over the big decision in this game, which may come as a surprise.
Attwell’s debut in the Football League was Hereford v Rotherham United in 2007. He was 24. A year later he was in the Premier League.
Now how someone so young and inexperienced could go from non-league football to the Premier League in what amounted to virtually a year of playing time is beyond me. It was a ridiculous fast-tracking that has never been satisfactorily explained.
He was out of his depth, which wasn’t his fault - blame those who promoted him so swiftly. Personally, I still think he looks out of his depth doing League One games. He looks so lacking in real authority and, in keeping with when I’ve seen of him previously, seems to lack awareness, missing apparently obvious offences (how he failed to punish an early challenge by Kari Arnason indicates his lack of awareness). Sorry, but I don’t think much of him as a referee.
So, how come he missed the push on Daniel Nardiello? Here’s the defence (if it is one). He didn’t see it! His reaction told me that.
You might reckon he hadn’t got himself in a good enough position for a situation which originated from a long clearance from the Rotherham keeper.
His reaction when Nardiello ended up on the floor, having attempted a shot as he was over-balancing and falling, was a sharp head movement as if to ask himself: “How’s he ended up down there and they’re appealing?”
He then looked across to his assistant (linesman) who had a great, uninterrupted view.
Attwell wanted some assistance. Had his assistant seen anything? It was one of two things - he, somehow, hadn’t seen it or he chickened out. Take your pick.
Whether I’ve assessed all this rightly or wrongly I’ll definitely tell you one thing - had Nardiello produced a nudge on the defender and then scored, I’ll bet you anything you want that either Attwell would have given a foul or his assistant’s eyesight would have been spot on and he’d have been flagging furiously.
Nardiello’s reaction was one of astounded disbelief. In a game where players will kick the ball out and still claim ‘our ball’, reactions can’t always be trusted, but this was genuine.
Attwell didn’t see it, he couldn’t give it. As the ensuing goal-kick soared away downfield, Nardiello closed up to the offending defender, Andy Butler, and was obviously mentioning it.
The defender - and no-one at any stage had accused Nardiello of diving - hardly seemed to respond. If you can get away with something ...
Of course, had it been a penalty, Attwell would have had to red-card the defender and Walsall would have been playing the final half-hour with 10 men.
So, that’s the big issue sorted. There wasn’t really much else in the way of talking points.
A game that was high on endeavour was also high on unforced, and forced, errors by both sides. Both frustratingly shed possession with great regularity. Unlike the Oldham game the previous week, this one wasn’t particularly enjoyable, if I’m honest.
That isn’t to knock the worthiness of a point there by the Millers and the extending of their unbeaten start to eight - second best in the club’s history and looking up at the 11 which started the season in 1948.
There was a contrast in styles. Walsall were neat and tidy and their 4-3-3 system often saw them get an extra midfield man in pockets of space. A spare man seemed to be popping up regularly. Rotherham resisted with tenacity and resilience.
Their main thrust was up through Alex Revell but there wasn’t enough real threat coming from elsewhere.
It was Revell’s aerial threat which was the assist for the goal on 20 minutes. He nodded down Lee Frecklington’s centre and Nardiello’s sharp goal instinct saw him get in front of his man and nod in.
James Baxendale should have levelled from a corner two minutes later and the home side, more urgent after going behind, levelled through Sam Mantom’s 31st-minute volley. Scott Shearer may have seen it late as it flashed through a group of players and it somehow got ‘through’ his saving attempt.
Both sides had spells of attacking possession but defences remained in charge and long range looked the best bet as when Ben Pringle’s effort had Richard O’Donnell going full length.
The imposing Tom Eaves was sent on to give clear glimpses of his undoubted potential and it was his header from a long throw which saw Nardiello head towards goal. O’Donnell brilliantly punch away almost off the head of Rob Milsom right in front of goal.
In typical fashion, Rotherham kept pushing, trying to win it but were indebted late on to top-rate blocks by Craig Morgan and then Mark Bradley who both denied Craig Westcarr.
But a draw was fair enough and you might say neither side deserved to win it!
“A good point against a good team at a tough place to come,” said Millers boss Steve Evans who added that Richard Brindley, who took an early blow to the head, was taken off after feeling ill and dizzy.
“I don’t question the referee’s integrity, he’s an honest guy, but we’ve been on the end of some atrocious decisions.
“Daniel Nardiello got pulled back in the first half when moving on to a back pass and it should have been red. Then there’s the penalty and that’s a red too. They’re big decisions that change the game. He’s just had a bad day, like we all do.”