HE has had to play a patient waiting game but after a steady recovery and an extended period of being eased back into action in the Football League, referee Lee Probert is back in the Premier League – where he feels he belongs.
The Wiltshire-based whistler would have been itching to kick-on this campaign having received the biggest honour of any official’s career – refereeing the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
But Probert – who oversaw Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Hull without any major hiccups – suffered a knee injury over the summer which has somewhat hampered his progress.
The 42-year-old made a long-awaited return to the pitch on December 20 in the League Two encounter between Accrington and promotion-chasing Wycombe.
After 10 further games including five in the Championship and three FA Cup ties, Probert has been appointed to his first top-flight game since May last year.
Like his last one, it will take place at the Hawthorns where West Bromwich Albion play host to relegation-threatened QPR on Saturday at 3pm – with the assistance of Ron Ganfield, Mark Scholes and fourth official Darren Bond.
On Easter Monday, Probert will switch from man in the middle to the one on the sidelines when overseeing electronic board duties at Selhurst Park for Michael Oliver in Crystal Palace’s Premier League encounter with champions Manchester City.
It has been a quiet re-introduction so far for the Gloucester-born referee, who has dished out an average of three yellow cards per game, awarded three penalties and sent off two players – both in the Championship.
One of those dismissals came just 28 seconds into Bournemouth’s 2-0 win over Watford at the end of January when Hornets defender Gabrielle Angella was adjudged to have brought down Cherries striker Callum Wilson as the last man although replays suggested otherwise.
Additionally, Probert has been the fourth official for 11 games so far this season – nine of them in the Premier League including for Southampton’s 2-0 win over Burnley prior to the international break.
Last Sunday, he was at Anfield to take control of Liverpool’s All-Star Charity Match between two XIs assembled by Reds legends Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
Last month, Probert held a lecture at the University of Bath giving students a unique insight into the demands a modern referee has to contend with.
Despite being on the treatment table for much of the first half of the campaign, it did not prevent Probert from being the subject of criticism from former referees’ chief Keith Hackett who claimed the Fifa official should be dropped if he fails a fitness test.
Having sat out 30 rounds of Premier League fixtures, his absence paved the way for Football League whistlers Paul Tierney, Graham Scott, Keith Stroud and Stuart Attwell to take charge of trial games to prove their potential in the top-flight.
Aside from last season’s surprise call-up for the FA Cup showpiece, Probert’s high-profile appointments also consist of the 2010 FA Trophy Final as Barrow beat Stevenage after extra time.
He was back at the national stadium a year later as fourth official for the FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City.
Probert’s first step-up to the top-flight came in January 2007 after four seasons on the National Group of referees before his official promotion came at the start of the 2007-08 campaign.
He oversaw 33 games in all competitions last term with 21 coming in the Premier League including a first Tyne-Wear derby and six games in a row immediately before issuing four yellow cards in what was a largely incident-free 133rd FA Cup Final.
His successful season did not end at Wembley, though, but with an international friendly between Nigeria and Scotland which ended 2-2 at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
Indeed, Probert has been on the Fifa list of referees as a Category Two official since late 2010 – allowing him to take control of international matches and Europa League games.
It will be his first encounter with Queens Park Rangers since their 2-1 Premier League defeat at home to Newcastle in May 2013 in which he awarded both sides a penalty and sent off visiting goalkeeper Rob Elliot.