Match Incident: James Ward-Prowse Yellow Card, Southampton vs Newcastle

Image courtesy of Geordie Boot Boys (Photo by Lee Parker/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The concept of the ‘professional foul’ is one that is seemingly endlessly debated, whether by football pundits on Match of the Day or armchair analysts on the wonderful world of Reddit. That debate was reignited this weekend during Newcastle’s match with Southampton, where a foul by James Ward-Prowse on Miguel Almirón had people split on what colour the resulting card should have been.

  • DATE: April 20, 2019
  • COMPETITION: Premier League
  • TEAMS: Newcastle United (H) vs Southampton (A)
  • REFEREE: Anthony Taylor
  • INCIDENT: Tactical/professional foul

Before I go any further, if this is the only angle from which you’ve seen the foul, you should know that there is another Newcastle player (Salomón Rondón) rushing up in support of Almirón – had Almirón gotten around Ward-Prowse, it would have been a two-attackers-vs-the-goalkeeper situation from the halfway line.

In between the very few Reddit commenters that see eye-to-eye with referee Anthony Taylor’s yellow card decision, a litany of people are convinced a red card should have been given on the play. Here, we have a debate between a yellow card for Stopping a Promising Attack (SPA) and a red card for Denial of an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO).

SPA vs DOGSO

The Laws of the Game don’t have any further explanation on what it actually means to ‘stop a promising attack,’ which probably makes sense as there are too many potential situations where this could apply.

However, the Laws do provide a short, four-step guideline for assessing a DOGSO offence:

Source: IFAB website

Classroom referee sessions generally teach referees to go by “the four Ds” when a potential DOGSO situation arises: distance to goal, distance to ball, direction of play, defenders present. Referees are taught that all four boxes have to be checked in the attacker’s favour in order for a play to be considered an obvious goal-scoring situation. Something to note here, however, is that there are no hard guidelines to base your decision off of – the Laws simply say that these are points to consider.

Why is this not a DOGSO situation?

I think it’s safe to check two of the four boxes above. Almirón is clearly taking the ball in the direction of the Southampton goal (direction of play), and his speed would have without question seen him get to the ball first (distance to ball).

However, first of all, there is the obvious fact that Ward-Prowse commits the foul nearly 70 yards from his goal, while still in Southampton’s attacking half. In other words, the goal-scoring threat is certainly not immediate and there is every chance Almirón might at some point get the ball caught up in his feet, take a heavy touch, or pass to an offside Rondón.

In addition, I have trouble saying for certain that no defender is within reasonable distance of catching up. The Southampton defender next-closest to the play (seen in the video sprinting back) is running back in a straight line towards his goal, while Almirón has to pick the ball up outside of the middle third of the pitch and run at an angle, which creates doubt that he will freely be able to proceed the entire route to the goal unchallenged.

Verdict: Correct decision, yellow card

To be fair, the Laws of the Game do not explicitly identify precisely what constitutes an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. However, they do provide guidelines to help assess a potential situation, and, with regards to this incident, looking at the four Ds, I can only say with absolute certainty that two of them are fulfilled. It’s certainly a very promising Newcastle attack, but to say that a clear goal-scoring chance is on the immediate horizon is a step too far.

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