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COMMENT: Saints can't afford to be sinners in Clattengate wake
THEY have made their point, and now they need to get on with their main job of winning Premier League ones.
Saints’ complaint about Mark Clattenburg has garnered them plenty of publicity, and it remains to be seen whether it has done them any good – in the short or long term.
Having had their complaint about Clattenburg made public, Saints then saw both Clattenburg’s own association and the FA rule in his favour.
Saints insist they do not want Clattenburg to referee any of their games “until this matter is properly resolved”.
By that, do they mean resolved to their liking?
Referees’ chief Mike Riley has already told Saints no action is being taken against the match official for his run-in with Adam Lallana at Goodison Park last month.
“Unfortunately, Saints are just going to have to accept this now and move on,” said Dell legend Francis Benali in yesterday’s Daily Echo, and he was spot on.
It might not be easy, though.
Saints’ disciplinary record has worsened this season.
Under Nigel Adkins, they had one of the best records in the top flight in terms of picking up cautions.
But the four collected against Chelsea on New Year’s Day took their seasonal league tally to 36 yellows.
Only four clubs have been shown more – Tottenham (37), Manchester United (41), Stoke (44) and Aston Villa (46).
Fans will not complain too much about that rise.
After all, far better to be sitting pretty in the top ten with a worse disciplinary record than a team battling for their lives against relegation.
Still, Saints players – especially Lallana – will now need to live up to their club’s nickname in the wake of Clattengate.
Having complained about the referee’s language, they cannot be seen to be aggressively confronting match officials if decisions do not go their way.
If you do not want referees verbally abusing you – though it’s debatable whether Clattenburg’s comment towards Lallana constituted ‘abuse’ – then you cannot verbally abuse referees.
Surely that has to be way of things?
Saints, unwittingly, have put themselves on a pedestal, promoting the desire for fair treatment from match officials. Now they have to treat them as they obviously wish to be treated themselves.
I wonder what Lallana thinks of all this. He has been placed firmly at the centre of all the attention, becoming a bit of a figure of fun on Twitter as a result, so cannot have welcomed such publicity.
He probably had no idea of the headlines his complaint would bring.
It is intriguing to see that no referee has booked more Saints players in league games since the start of last season than Clattenburg.
Eighteen cautions in seven games is a lot, even though it is down on Clattenburg’s 2013/14 average of 3.2 yellows issued in domestic games Add the high profile incidents of Norwich’s late penalty last season, Arsenal’s penalty at The Emirates in November, and the two spot-kicks Saints thought they should have had at Goodison, and you get a clearer picture of the reasoning behind the club’s complaint to referees’ chiefs.
In the short term, and even though Clattenburg has been cleared of any wrongdoing, Saints will probably get their way.
History suggests he won’t be taking charge of any of their games in the immediate future.
After Clattenburg was cleared of racially abusing Jon Obi-Mikel at Stamford Bridge on October 28 2012, it was exactly six months until he took charge of a Chelsea game again.
He has only been given one Chelsea game this season.
The Everton v Saints encounter which caused the controversy between Clattenburg and Adam Lallana was the referee’s first game at Goodison Park since the 2007 Merseyside derby in which he sent off two home players, failed to give Everton a late penalty and missed a red-card offence by Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt.
It is hard to get away from the thought that Clattenburg was being kept away on purpose.
Then there is the curious case of Martin Atkinson, another of England’s leading match officials.
He was on the receiving end of a Sir Alex Ferguson outburst after awarding Chelsea a late penalty to give them a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in March 2011.
“When I saw who the referee was, I did fear it. I feared the worst,” Ferguson fumed.
Atkinson did not take charge of another United game for more than a year, in March 2012 at Tottenham.
He didn’t referee a single game at Old Trafford while Ferguson remained in charge.
Not one match in over two years following Fergie’s rant.
Yet he was the official chosen to referee United’s game with Chelsea in what was David Moyes’ first home game as manager!
Again, it is hard to get past the thinking that Atkinson was being kept well away from any more hairdryer treatment on purpose.
Will Clattenburg be kept away from Saints games?
The Premier League can easily make that happen, as they have 17 other men who have refereed in the top flight this season.
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