James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Does the punishment for diving really fit the crime?
Tomorrow, when Sheffield United visit The Hawthorns to play West Bromwich Albion, one player in particular will be under the spotlight.
Not George Baldock, whose injured calf muscle has been occupying Bramall Lane's medical staff for most of the week. Or Jack O'Connell, still receiving treatment to loosen his tight hamstring. (After making 106 league starts on the bounce before sitting-out last week's win over Middlesbrough, the defender's body can be forgiven for telling its owner a thing or two).
The player I'm talking about is of course Dwight Gayle, having served a two match ban for "successful deception of a match official" during the hosts' recent draw with Nottingham Forest. In layman's terms, stripping away the language deliberately designed to obscure the crime, that's "cheating" to you and me.
The incident which led to the striker's punishment, and the comments of his manager when the Football Association intervened, raise several important points. Ones I believe, even though some within the game might like to pretend otherwise, are worthy of further discussion and analysis.
The first concerns the response of Gayle's manager Darren Moore, who complained the player is "really disappointed to be accused of something far from what he is.
"We feel disappointed about it," Moore continued. He has such a wonderful energy and really likes the football club."
What Moore fails to recognise is that Martin O'Neill, now in charge of Forest, probably felt pretty disappointed too having seen his team conned out of a win by Gayle's penalty winning dive. The former Bradford City manager also seems unable to appreciate his player has not been branded a habitual cheat, rather someone unmasked as being involved in a deception. We all make mistakes. Most of us look back on things we've done or said in the past and think 'Dear me why?"
Lee Mason, who fell for Gayle's con trick, made a number of other dubious calls during the fixture concerned. It happens. Moore and his counterparts elsewhere in the game must also appreciate, unless action is taken to address behaviour like the 29-year-old's, it will happen a lot more often with referees and their assistants constantly trying to second guess themselves. Complaints about duff calls should fall on deaf ears if players and coaches continue to obfuscate about something with threatens to integrity of the sport every bit as much as the fixers and scammers they get so pious about.
I also think it is worth considering if Gayle's punishment fits the crime. They say cheats never prosper and, given the fact he was consigned to the stands for the meetings with Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers, that might well be the case.
But, in this instance, their clubs certainly do because West Brom gained a point when they would otherwise have dropped three and Forest were robbed of two.
Should they be deducted, on top of a suspension for the perpetrator, in situations like this moving forward? It is an attractive and compelling proposition. But, as much as I would like to argue otherwise, impossible to implement given the subjective nature of what constitutes a foul.