Baggies fall short in battle with Fulham and the referee

Fulham 3 West Brom 0

At Craven Cottage, Albion fell to a third defeat in five games to leave them four points off the top two and nine points behind leaders, Bournemouth. The margin of victory was particularly harsh and, while Fulham probably deserved to win the game on the balance of play, it was a match that was hugely influenced by two poor decisions by referee, Michael Salisbury.

It is admirable that Valérien Ismaël refused to blame the referee for the defeat, pointing instead to mistakes in the lead up to the situations that gave the man in the middle a decision to make, but there is no doubt in my mind that the decisions massively impacted the outcome of the game.

As a former referee myself, I have some sympathy with all referees as it is an incredibly difficult job. I’m sure they were honest mistakes, but there are some basic refereeing principles that I feel he failed to adhere to with the penalty decision in particular. Firstly, he was incredibly quick in giving the decision – good referees will always given themselves a second or two to weigh things up – and to give a penalty, you really need to be 100% sure and I find it difficult to believe that he felt that. From my position in the away end, it was abundantly clear that Bartley had won the ball cleanly and, while Salisbury would have had a different angle, I cannot understand how he got it that wrong nor why he didn’t appear to consult his assistant.

The bigger surprise is that Michael Salisbury is actually a “Select Group” referee having been promoted to the list able to referee in the Premier League last season after just one campaign in the Championship. He is yet to officiate in the top flight, however, and this showing suggests he is not ready.

The most annoying thing is that it was a decision that changed the entire game. It had been a fairly even contest until then, but Fulham looked a much more confident side once a goal up. Obviously, we handed them a second goal, although I’m still not sure if Seri got a toe onto the ball and, if he did, surely Mitrović should have been ruled offside? I did see the referee looking at his assistant in the immediate aftermath.

Not that Albion were without their chances, although most came from set pieces before the break. After half time, the Baggies looked much more threatening and, had Conor Townsend’s cross shot either found the corner or Hugill’s boot, it could have been a very different outcome.

The visitors were on top in the second half up until the second decisive and incorrect decision, the red card for Furlong. It was perhaps a more forgivable error than the first but my first instinct what that the Albion wing back had played the ball.

Taking the refereeing decisions out of the game, it was a much closer contest that the scoreline suggests in my opinion, and the key difference between the sides was Aleksandar Mitrović. Never was the number nine-shaped hole in the Albion squad more evident and it must the club’s priority to address in January. The hope is that the Baggies can keep in touch with the top two in the meantime.

I’ve see plenty of cricitism of Ismaël’s decision to recall Livermore to the squad and, while it is not a decision I would have made, I think Livermore had a reasonable game. The twitterati have also been out lambasting individual players for this mistake and that mistake, and it just shows how little some of these individuals understand the game. If these players didn’t make mistakes, they would be playing in the Premier League – the fact remains that the majority of Championship clubs would swap squads with us in a heartbeat. However, the social media over-reaction to a defeat is to be expected these days.

This is a match that Albion need to put behind them and move on to back-to-back home games that they will be expected to win to head into the final international break of the year in good form.

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