It is possible to believe Costel Pantilimon needs to be much more assertive in the goalmouth, and to deal much more safely with crosses and long-range shots, but also acknowledge – however belatedly – that the West Bromwich Albion goal on Saturday was indeed the result of a foul. Or even two fouls.
So Pants deserves an apology from those of us who were too ready to point accusing fingers at him after Berahino scored the winner at the Hawthorns. He gets one from me.
Gary Bennett and Nick Barnes, in their commentary and assessments, had no doubt the keeper blundered.
“What’s he doing?” moaned Benno in that exasperated tone he adopts when a player seriously messes up. The TV commentary I saw reached a similar conclusion and I felt that, at the very least, Pantilimon should not have allowed himself to be outmuscled by a small striker.
Our supporters seem divided – plenty blamed Pants here, on Twitter and at Facebook but others said it was a clear foul that Martin Atkinson was wrong to overlook.
Now the kinder (to Pants) verdict has authoritative support.
Graham Poll also divided fans when he was a referee. I thought him a generally good if arrogant match official who made mistakes – some highly detrimental to Sunderland – but got much more right. His weekly assessment of the big controversies for the Daily Mail are usually very fair.
And on the Pants/Berahini/Atkinson episode, he could not be clearer:
Martin Atkinson missed two clear fouls by Saido Berahino on Costel Pantilimon. When a keeper is in his own penalty area and has his feet off the ground no physical contact is allowed and yet Berahino clearly jumped into Pantilimon which was a foul.
The Sunderland stopper recovered and got both hands on the ball only for the Baggies striker to kick it from his hands to score.
For good measure – and this is an after-thought since I have just seen it – another former top ref, Dermot Gallagher, agrees at Sky with Poll but also mentions the split opinion:
I think it’s a foul – I’m in the minority I hasten to add, and I’m surprised. I think he jumps into the man, and the keeper’s got the ball in his hands. I’m not sure about the second one – the forward’s entitled to go for it – and I’m also not convinced about the handball – it has to be deliberate [in other words, ‘must be deliberate to infringe the rules’ – Ed. But I think the first one was a foul.
There will be plenty who feel Pants was still partly to blame for not being more commanding, as a very big man, in dealing with Chris Brunt’s cross.
Pants certainly has a lot of work to do if he is to play a big part in Big Sam’s battle to pull us out of the bottom three before we are marooned there and games run out.
But on this occasion, he was right to be angry with the ref – the sort of response he made will never change a decision and just earn him a yellow card, but is it human and understandable – and Monsieur Salut is among those who, on reflection, were far too hard on him. Sorry, Costel.