Director of referees Ben Wilson declared that Wellington Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund should not have been sent off for his foul on Adelaide United striker Jeronimo Neumann in Week 4.
Wilson says there is no doubt Sigmund fouled Neumann, but that it is also clear from further inspection of the incident on video that it had not been a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
"The league’s match review panel did the right thing in upholding the red-card decision," Wilson said. "You can’t go from a red to a yellow, you can only go from a red to nothing, and that wasn’t an option since there was a foul involved.
"But that doesn’t necessarily mean, upon further inspection of the video, that the referee has done the right thing.
"Our feedback to Jarred Gillett, the referee in that game, was that a yellow card would have been the correct decision.
“The Adelaide player was not going to be able to get to the ball. It was bouncing at head height and the goalkeeper came out to collect it, so it wasn’t a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
"We’ve addressed that with Jarred. I’ve spoken to him about the sort of options he should have considered.”
Wilson said it was important the refereeing body is transparent, so that it can keep faith with the fans who want to have complex decisions explained to them and also see some accountability when match officials are guilty of genuinely poor decision-making.
Neumann created a furore with his delayed fall while deep in attack in the Adelaide-Wellington game. The contact from Sigmund was minimal, but Wilson was adamant Gillett had to take some action.
The match review panel backed the on-field decision, declaring that there was no basis under the rules to conduct a post-match review for possible simulation.
Gillett isn’t refereeing in the A-League this weekend, but Wilson said he had not been dropped. He said there were 15 referees available, some of whom were rookies at this level, and that they were being rotated through the early rounds so that the inexperienced ones could be assessed.
“We’re making a conscious effort to get all of the referees out there over the first six or seven rounds,” he said. “No-one has refereed more than three games at this stage.
"We’re having a look at everyone and the referees have been notified that appointments will be based on performance.
"In terms of explaining decisions, and accountability, we have to remain transparent.
"We can’t shut up shop and not talk when something negative happens and then expect people to listen when we want to talk about the positive things.
"We backed the decision not to award a penalty to Perth Glory for handball late in the game against Sydney FC last Sunday, because the contact was accidental. There was no intent to handle the ball, so the referee was correct there.
"But we also want to make it clear when we think a player should have stayed on the field instead of being sent off, as in the case of the Wellington player."
This year’s competition is very close, and because of the early success of big-name marquee players media publicity has gone through the roof. The extra scrutiny means there is increased pressure on players, coaches and referees to get things right.
Wilson said he was happy with how the referees were performing under that pressure, adding: "There have only been two matches in four rounds where there has been a significant controversy. Apart from that, the refereeing hasn’t played a significant part in the outcomes of matches.
"We’re making good progress with the refereeing. We’re mixing up some new refs with the experienced ones, and the new refs are coming along well. We had an extensive pre-season training program, and the referees are fitter than ever.
"Having said that, there is always room for improvement, but I think we’re in a good position at the moment. The referees are well aware of the increased scrutiny, but they already put themselves under pressure – as a group – to perform well and get things right.
“I have regular contact with the club coaches, and there is a good relationship there as well. I think it’s good that there’s added scrutiny – it keeps everyone on their toes."