For a neutral, the drama created during Leeds United’s 3-2 victory at London Road yesterday must have made for extremely compelling viewing.

After being reduced to ten men, Championship newcomers Peterborough United fought valiantly and with just two minutes remaining looked to have snatched a point from the jaws of defeat.

But Darren O’Dea, who Peterborough fans would argue should have been sent off himself for a poor challenge minutes earlier, levelled the scoring in the 95th minute after the fourth official showed just four minutes of added time. Here we pick up on the big talking points of the game, starting with the “Fergie Time” Darren Ferguson objected so strongly to.

Stop… Fergie Time… 

The irony of Alex Ferguson’s son bemoaning a goal that came after the minutes of added time were played won’t be lost on many. It does however seem that Darren Ferguson is one of them.

But Darren Ferguson’s point that “four minutes is four minutes” is hard to contest – I’ve done the calculations, checked and rechecked my work and it really does seem that four minutes is indeed, four minutes. Just to be sure I contacted Mensa to corroborate my findings and they too are in agreement. As such, I think it’s fair to say this is a valid point Darren Ferguson has made.

Quite what relevance that point has however is anyone’s guess? I can only assume Darren Ferguson failed his managerial test and is extremely hard of hearing, as the rules of the game are most definitely covered in the former and I’ve visited very few stadiums where there isn’t an announcer bellowing over the public address system that “the fourth official has indicated there will be a MINIMUM of…” added time.

The fact of the matter is, there were two free-kicks in added time and like every other team in football, Peterborough tried to run the clock down a little to secure the point. I’ve heard since that Darren Ferguson actually shouted at a ball boy for returning the ball too quick to a Leeds player! We’ve all seen our teams try and waste time, it’s standard practice, but every once in a while you’ll get a referee whose having none of it. That was the case here and he was well within his rights to continue play.

Peterborough’s chairman Darragh MacAnthony was also outraged by the referees performance, guaranteeing himself another fine with this outburst on Twitter;

 “I want my fine money back from FA. Game ruined again by total incompetence. Fix the problem instead of dishing out fines. DO YOUR JOB.”

There are problems in football and I agree with both Darragh and Darren that fines for speaking your mind are an absolute nonsense. Football is about the drama and talking points, it’s why the national rags dedicate half their pages to it and why blogs like this can become so successful – we love the drama, we want to see managers and chairman throwing their teddy out when things go against them.

The biggest problem is that referees are too protected, they face very little scrutiny. I appreciate that they’re there to uphold the law, but even the Police are Policed. Players and managers are scrutinised and made to answer for everything, so why should the referees be any different?

But none of that changes the fact that the four minutes indicated is a minimum. It’s a simple enough rule, but once that board goes up and you’re hanging on, anything beyond those four minutes is torture, and if the result changes in that time it does feel like you’ve been robbed, as Leeds found out v Coventry City and Simon Grayson pointed out following the match;

“I suppose people will say: ‘It’s a minimum of four minutes’ and we conceded a goal against Coventry in exactly the same circumstances. It’s the way football goes.”

Seeing red… 

For me, the red card Peterborough received was more unjust than the Fergie Time winner they conceded. By the letter of the law, it’s a sending off because he’s gone in from behind and taken the player out – it’s hard to contest in that context.

But it’s this “letter of the law” nonsense that is to blame for the ridiculous amount of red cards we see in football nowadays. We’ve already had our fair share of dodgy sendings off this season that have cost us valuable points, and whilst the “swings and roundabouts” argument has turned out to have some truth to it, it’s never easy to swallow at the time.

A referees job is difficult because we rely on them to use their own discretion; to put individual incidents into context and take appropriate action. The context of Lee Tomlin’s red card was that Andy Keogh had the ball at his feet, Tomlin clearly goes for the ball (not the player) and Keogh turns at the same time to shield the ball.

Already committed, Tomlin can’t pull out of the challenge which has now become a foul because Andy Keogh has turned away at the same time meaning instead of taking the ball he was aiming for, Tomlin has now clattered into Keogh.

There’s no denying it turns out to be a bad challenge, but there was no malice in it whatsoever and Tomlin has clearly gone for the ball only to be caught out by Keogh’s turn. Yellow card, sure. Red, not for me – are we really supposed to hand them out for an accident?

The strange thing is, neither manager had any problem with the decision. Darren Ferguson admits it was a sending off whilst Simon Grayson agrees but also points out there is no malice;

“I’ve seen it, the lad jumped in and if it had have been one of my players I would have thought it was a red card. I’m sure he’s not a malicious but he left himself open to it. I think it was the right decision.

My main problem with red cards is that they ruin games (plus Leeds are always crap against ten men). Football is a contact sport that those above seem hell-bent on removing the contact from. Red cards should be reserved for acts of violence, not for poorly timed tackles, human error and bad luck. That’s why we have a yellow card, to warn players that they need to be a little more careful.

Oh dear… 

I’m wary that this post has run a little long, so will end with the red card appeal Peterborough had on Darren O’Dea and the freekick Leeds were awarded leading up to the winner.

The decision only to book Darren O’Dea was the right call. It’s a poorly-timed challenge, but like Lee Tomlin, there was no malice involved. The problem the referee has at this point however is that he’s sent Lee Tomlin off for a challenge no worse than O’Dea’s, and whilst fans can accept referees interpret the rules of the game slightly differently and that some are stricter than others, we expect each referee to be consistent in their own style.

Tomlin shouldn’t have walked in my opinion, but because he did, there’s a fair argument that O’Dea should have too. The referee in charge yesterday was poor all day, for both teams, and he was poor because he lacked any kind of consistency. What was a foul one minute was ignored the next, O’Dea stayed on whilst Tomlin walked and we had periods of the game where he blew the whistle constantly and others where he seemed to disappear. The freekick leading up to the winning goal was one of many questionable decisions.

And that’s the crux of the matter really, that the referee was so inconsistent Peterborough’s complaints are justified. Darren Ferguson could have looked a little more angry and a little less like he was fighting back the tears and the chairman – like our own – should stick to off-the-field matters, but it’s not hard to understand their complaints… well, aside from the “four minutes is four minutes” part anyway.