James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Another mighty fine footballing mess

Football has an unfortunate habit of conjuring stupid ideas before performing embarrassing u-turns.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 5:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 4:43 pm
Referee Darren England has a word with Sheffield United's Billy Sharp

After Tuesday night’s match between Sheffield United and Walsall, I’ve got a pretty good hunch which is the next hair-brained scheme to follow the 39th game and top-flight ‘b’ teams by getting kicked - ‘ave it style - into the long, long grass.

Appointing referees, providing they do not follow one of the clubs involved, to fixtures involving clubs from their local area. A concept which, earlier this week, placed South Yorkshire’s Darren England in a terribly awkward position at Bramall Lane.

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United would be doing themselves no favours if they attribute their downfall solely to England’s performance.

Passes went astray, a penalty was missed and a sluggish start, which ended with Ademola Bakayoko being gifted a goal, provided the visitors with a foothold in the game. Wilder, despite mounting a staunch defence of his players afterwards, admitted there were still issues to be addressed. It is difficult to criticise a team which, until a moment of hesitation allowed Bakayoko to pounce, had scored 32 times during a 15 game unbeaten run.

It is also no surprise that a squad still in its infancy - 13 new faces have arrived since Wilder’s appointment six months ago - has a few wrinkles to iron out.

But after being dropped from the starting eleven, ostensibly due to his failure to put the ball in the back of the net, I would suggest one of those issues is whether centre-forward Matt Done warrants a recall. A constant menace and real pest for defenders, his movement creates space for others and, to put it bluntly, means their markers are probably knackered when Leon Clarke or Caolan Lavery come on.

But back to England. I understand the thinking behind the rule change which allowed him to take charge of United’s fixture with Walsall. And, in one sense, I agree. Prohibiting officials from overseeing matches on the basis of geography would, quite wrongly, place a question mark over their perceived ability to be impartial. Something which England most definitely was. The trouble is, preventing them from officiating games involving the clubs they support effectively does exactly the same thing. Not to mention, quite rightly, recognise the fact we live in an imperfect world where even honest slips of the tongue or mistakes attract the type of response once reserved for crooks or war criminals. Hell hath no fury like the Twitterrati scorned.

United felt England dropped a clanger by disallowing Billy Sharp’s late ‘equaliser.’ If he did, then it will have been an honest mistake. The ensuing debate about whether, faced with a 50/50 call, he subconsciously erred on the side of Walsall to try and demonstrate no local bias is unfair and irrelevant. But the fact it is even taking place is not.

With 75 referees operating at Premier League and Football League level, why expose him to such scrutiny in the first place?