Amid many differences Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday have one thing in common - Alan Biggs

They might be naive. Maybe some will say they should wise up and “play the game.”

By Chris Holt
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 1:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 1:03 pm

But one thing from which both Sheffield clubs can take pride is that - from all I’ve seen - neither indulges in the worst excesses of time wasting.

And I hope they don’t “wise up” because we are talking here about what is currently the biggest blight on the professional game in this country.

On both sides of this city the grumblings about it were the soundtrack to last season.

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Robert Jones, Match Referee gestures towards his watch during the Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur

It might seem like parochial cheerleading to single out Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday for setting better examples than most.

I hope it’s not taken that way. The reference to “worst excesses” is about feigning injury, getting physios on unnecessarily, killing the tempo and therefore the entertainment of games by manufacturing hold-ups.

If either Wednesday or United have consistently indulged in that, this column hasn’t noticed it.

Karl Robinson, Manager of Oxford United

Unfortunately, all this is increasingly viewed by the wider football community as gamesmanship and being professional.

Here I applaud the honesty of one of its exponents, Karl Robinson of Oxford United, who, after his team had nicked a win at Hillsborough last season, came straight out to me and admitted a deliberate ploy, making absolutely no apologies for it.

Other bosses brush aside such complaints, presumably filing them under sour grapes.

Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore

Of course, it has to be accepted that, in Championship and League One terms, Bramall Lane and Hillsborough are, or have been, virtual fortresses.

They attract large crowds and are hostile places to visit. Opposing teams will, to use another euphemism, “play the percentages”, as for example Gillingham were among other irritants at Hillsborough last season, while Bramall Lane echoed to similar booing regularly during the campaign.

Special mention also in dispatches to play-off opponents in either half of Sheffield, Sunderland and Nottingham Forest.

Let’s be honest, though. There have been times when Sheffield teams have been accused of the same - like when Marco Silva complained after the Blades won at Fulham in December. Note the word “won.”

Paul Heckingbottom was booked at Nottingham Forest after a spat with a player over time-wasting

I don’t recall any moans of that sort in any circumstances from Paul Heckingbottom or Darren Moore. But ok, they will want their players to wind down the clock, take the ball into the corners etc, when their teams are leading late on.

What I find unacceptable - and where I feel Sheffield’s teams have a better code - is players going down, pretending to be injured. Particularly if it involves phantom aerial challenges which leave them holding their heads.

It is not only blatant cheating but dangerous and totally irresponsible, potentially leaving referees to doubt the seriousness of a genuine injury in such circumstances.

But here is where the referees need to step up. They are not medics and can’t make a judgment on whether someone is hurt or not. Only the player knows that for certain.

What officials can do, however, is add on far more stoppage time. Why do teams do it? Largely because they can get away with it and profit from it.

What about a discretionary allowance for referees where, if they feel that a team has indulged in consistent time wasting, they add, say, a three-minute penalty to the extra time they have calculated?

It wouldn’t seem so clever if sides found themselves repeatedly facing an extra ten minutes plus at the end of games.

And it would give spectators better value amid the bleak reality that they now see less than an hour of the 90 minutes with the ball actually in play.

Oh, and caution players for time wasting much earlier in games. We’ve all seen goalkeepers do it almost from the first minute.

Dish out that early yellow card, leaving the risk of another to follow. Same with players taking an age over throw-ins and free-kicks.

Unless action is taken, we are inviting a mentality of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” where every manager practices the dark arts to the same degree.

What we have to ask is - who and what suffers the most from that? Answer, the game and the spectators.

It’s about the spectacle and value for money. The extra allowance of five substitutes next season will only dilute this further. Time-wasting is short-changing us. Referees, get it stopped.