Why Bobby Madden's red card decision in Rangers v Celtic was correct - despite Neil Lennon's protestations
As soon as Bobby Madden began running towards Celtic’s Nir Bitton there was an inevitability about the result, the Israeli having pulled back Alfredo Morelos.
The official reached towards his back pocket and summoned the red card, deeming the foul to be denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
Having dominated for much of the game, Celtic now found themselves down to ten men at Ibrox, handing the initiative to Rangers.
The league leaders would ultimately use the advantage to claim a 1-0 win which pushed them 19 points clear of their rivals.
‘Not a sending off’
Celtic boss Neil Lennon blasted Madden’s decision.
"The referee has made the wrong decision and it's changed the course of the game,” he told Sky Sports.
"It's not a sending off, it's a foul, we've got [Kristoffer] Ajer coming in on the cover and Morelos is in a wide position.
"It's not a clear and obvious goalscoring opportunity – he might get a shot off but he's certainly not clear through on goal.”
What the laws of the game say
So what is the rule exactly?
A red card is issued to a player “denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick”, as per the IFAB Laws of the Game.
The referee must consider:
- distance between the offence and the goal
- general direction of the play
- likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
- location and number of defenders
Morelos, Bitton and Ajer
At the moment the Colombian turned Bitton, he was facing the goal and around 10 yards from the edge of the box, driving in from the right. In terms of Ajer, there was, at the very least, 20 yards between the striker and the defender (IMAGE 1).
There is little doubt Morelos is reaching the ball (IMAGE 2).
Ajer, who was excellent, displayed his pace earlier in the match when he recovered to steal the ball from Ryan Kent brilliantly. Yet, Morelos is no slouch and looking at how the ball runs free after he was brought down, he would need just one, maybe two, touches before taking on the shot from a dangerous area.
Madden, who Lennon criticised for getting his card out too quickly, seemed certain with his decision, likely in contact with the nearside linesman who flagged for the incident right in front of him.
Morelos was getting the ball, bearing down on goal for a one v one with Vasilis Barkas with Ajer having to cover a lot of ground.
It is therefore hard to agree with Lennon’s overall assessment.
Stiliyan Petrov disagreed with his former Celtic team-mate's view as a guest on Sky Sports.
The Bulgarian ace said: “I would love to back up Neil, but I just can’t. He says it’s just a foul, but why does he feel the need to concede this foul? It’s because [Morelos] will be one-on-one with the goalkeeper. It’s a clear opportunity.
"It’s a red card. Bitton should have had a better position, but I would also question Ajer’s position. He should be closer. If he is then Bitton doesn’t have to make the foul.”