Watching Sunderland in League One has been an interesting one so far. Seeing us win games more regularly is brilliant, our new board and management getting behind the lads is tremendous and the scrappy nature of lower league teams is surprisingly entertaining to watch.
However, there’s a massive issue that we’ve all indignantly commented on as fans this season, and that is the diabolical standard of refereeing in League One. We’ve gone from one extreme to another in the space of two seasons - from players getting a yellow card for having an opponent obviously dive across them and conceding a free kick to players getting chunks taken out of them and the referee not batting an eyelid.
Granted, we knew that refereeing wouldn’t be at it’s best in third tier football, but this is something else entirely.
I’ve only been to a few games this season, but the poor standard of refereeing really hit me as hard as anyone whilst watching the Fleetwood and Peterborough games. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love how League One is a province of smaller teams playing “proper” football, and not a division of snowflakes falling over each other whenever someone breathes on them too heavily - but crikey, some of our lads have been kicked to pieces and the referees haven’t looked remotely sympathetic.
In the Fleetwood game, the Joey Barton side we were greeted with were truly a reflection of their master’s image; a generally nasty and niggly team happy to make sly digs wherever they could. It’s generally frustrating to watch a game, notice a foul, and have the referee not give it.
It’s no easy job being a referee, I accept that. But there comes a point when you’ve got to question just how many seemingly stonewall decisions the referees miss in this league.
The referee in the Peterborough game really struck me, though. The only thing he got right in the entire game was sending Bryan Oveido off for that stupid kick against Marcus Maddison in the second half.
Peterborough ultimately got the majority of decisions in their favour and we got nothing. The referee seemed oblivious to the lads being on the receiving end of some pretty nasty challenges - I recall Jerome Sinclair being held around the neck a couple of times when he tried to control a goal kick from McLaughlin and nothing was given.
As a fan, you tell yourself that sometimes you just have to expect games in which nothing will go in your team’s favour, but it’s happened more often than not this season due to poor refereeing.
More to the point, we’ve got to be careful in future games. The standard of refereeing is bad, but we’ve got to be conscious that we’re not making ourselves an easy target for referees to give decisions against us due to our recently poor disciplinary record.
Although we’ve encountered and dealt with these niggly teams reasonably well up until now, we’ve also lost our heads far more often than we should have.
Max Power was sent off against Bradford at the weekend for attempting to kick an opposition player and only a few days earlier was Oveido sent off in the Peterborough game for his aforementioned moronic moment. It’s also certainly worth mentioning that we’ve given away no less than four penalties so far this season for daft challenges. These are the sort of things lower league referees especially watch out for.
Poorer quality standard of refereeing is certainly something our supporters aren’t used to, given we’ve been until recently a top flight team. The players are just going to have to adapt to decisions not going their way, because the standard of refereeing in League One definitely isn’t changing in the near future.