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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 17:56 GMT
Sam the joker in the pack
Bolton have worked out the new offside rules to their advantage
Bolton deliberately posted players (white shirts) in an offside position

By John May

The word 'cute' does not normally spring to mind when talking of Bolton boss Sam Allardyce.

Bluff, blunt and bullish are the normal adjectives that stick to him, but when it comes to exploiting the new offside interpretation, Allardyce has proved to be the cutest boss so far.

He may not have been the first, he may even have been reluctant, but he has been the best at exposing the current interpretation for what it is, a complete dog's breakfast.

From the moment Ruud van Nistelrooy wandered lonely as a cloud into Southampton's penalty box, and subsequently scored in the 'second phase' managers and coaches up and down the country made mental notes.

But it is Allardyce who has re-invented the wheel.

Having been on the receiving end, Saints' boss Gordon Strachan reacted quickly.

At the first opportunity against Fulham, Strachan posted a posse of players in the six-yard box, beyond Fulham's back-line, all of whom rushed out as Graeme Le Saux began his run-up to take the free-kick.

Bolton boss Sam Allardyce
Sam sniggers all the way home

Southampton had employed a similar tactic last season.

The Saints would send the big guns forward at set pieces and get them to stand beyond the last line of defence, and dart back before the kick was taken.

The prime motive was to confuse markers but if the Southampton players were still there when the ball was played in, they would have been flagged offside.

But the new ruling has put a different shade on things.

Players can now lurk in an offside position, and provided they are moving away from goal at the moment the ball is kicked, they will not be deemed to be interfering with play.

Allardyce worked this a treat against Leicester, where it prompted a goal. He pointedly placed two players on the six-yard box. At least one would be in keeper Ian Walker's field of vision on the ball's flight path in.

Walker put his hand up for his error, even though he was presented with a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Nobody would have argued if he had claimed that he was distracted by Kevin Nolan.

And this is where the problems arise.

A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball is touched or played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee involved in active play by:
Interfering with play: i.e. playing or touching a ball passed or touched by a teammate.
Interfering with an opponent: i.e. preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball, or making a gesture or movement while standing in the path of the ball to deceive or distract an opponent.
Gaining an advantage by being in that position: i.e. playing a ball that rebounds off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position, or playing a ball that rebounds off an opponent having been in an offside position

The new interpetation says a player in an offside position can only be ruled to be actively involved if he is: "Interfering with an opponent, i.e. preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball, or making a gesture or movement while standing in the path of the ball to deceive or distract an opponent."

For something that was supposed to clarify things, the new interpretation has given officials an awful lot more to consider.

In a split-second, they now have to consider whether players going away from goal are active or impassive or causing a distraction, and in the confusion of a packed area where players are going in all directions they have watch out for players who are offside in the accepted sense.

With the traffic in penalty areas whirling in all directions, the FA will be recruiting their referee's assistants from the ranks of Rome's traffic cops.

To that end, Sam's ploy worked a treat and we can now expect to see teams employing it up and down the country, and why not?

It is the job of every manager to find that little edge, and there is a delicious irony that somebody with a reputation as a no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes Joe Bloke should be the prime micky-taker of the new ruling.

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