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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
The James Beattie column
Last weekend was one dominated by referees' decisions, and rules and regulations.
We were on the wrong end of a sticky decision at Tottenham.
I thought we had played well enough to deserve a point and looked like getting it until the controversial last-minute penalty.
I'm not entirely sure it was a penalty. Steffen Iversen's shot was from point-blank range, and in attempting to block it, I don't think Michael Svensson could get out of the way.
Handball has to be deliberate, and from that distance, Michael's reflexes couldn't have been that sharp to move his hands towards the ball.
But you have to accept that those decisions will sometimes go for you as well as against you, even though it's tough to take.
What is tougher to take is the legacy of that decision.
Unless Michael Svensson's appeal is successful, he will be suspended.
So in one fell swoop, not only did the referee cost us a point with his decision, but could cost us more as we will be without an influential defender for a game.
I think as players, we accept that a deliberate attempt to prevent a goal should be punished by a sending-off.
But under certain circumstances the award of a penalty and the dismissal of a player should be sufficient punishment.
By suspending the player as well, the team is being punished twice.
Obviously, the big talking-points were the dismissals of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
Both are fantastic players, and terrific competitors. In fact, it's their competitive edge which makes them the great players they are.
The way they play, fiercely competing for every ball, inevitably brings them to the attention of the referee, and you sometimes wonder whether their reputation preceeds them and they are looked at closer than others.
Having said that, it didn't look as though Roy had too much to complain about against Sunderland.
There may have been no deliberate attempt to elbow Jason McAteer, but somebody like Roy has to be extra careful in situations like that.
I haven't seen the incident which earned Patrick Vieira his sending off, but that raises another issue.
He was sent off for a second yellow card, and under the rules, he is unable to appeal against it, even though it prompted a sending-off.
Ironically, if Vieira had committed a worse foul than he supposedly did and was shown an instant red card, he would have been able to appeal against that!
The rule allowing players to recieve five yellow cards before they are suspended was increased from three. The exchange was the ending of appeals against yellow cards.
But there has to be some discretion and common sense if a dodgy yellow card leads to a player being sent off.
Rather than a second yellow card in a match that would trigger a suspension, perhaps there is a case for sin-bins, as in rugby and ice hockey.
I know it's something that has been talked about before, and maybe there is a case for introducing it to football.
It would make more sense to punish a team for 10 or 20 minutes in the match by reducing their numbers, rather than punish them three games down the line against different opposition.
It's a Saturday off for most Premiership players this weekend, and I'll be spending it by hopefully watching my team-mate Wayne Bridge play for England against Portugal.
He's become a fixture in the squad, but I would like to see him play in the team more regularly.
International fixtures mean a strange, artificial sort of week for us players.
You obviously have to work just as hard on the training ground, but there is no end product at the end of the week to work to.
It's also strange having a break this early in the season.
Like all Premiership players, we've gone through a really tough pre-season training regime to get ourselves fit enough for the big start, and then just a couple of weeks in, we're taking our foot off the pedal.
I think breaks for international matches later in the season are very welcome, and while the prime reason is to help the England team (and I'm all in favour of that) I think it also helps us as well.
But I think your perception of whether a break is welcome or not depends on how the team is doing.
If you're flying along, you obviously don't want anything to interrupt your momentum.
But if you're having a bad trot, you might welcome a bit of breathing space to take stock.
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