Opinion: Andrew Dallas can be Scotland’s best referee

Why Andrew Dallas has the potential, in time, to be Scottish football’s leading referee – just like his father more than a decade ago.

Referee Andrew Dallas
Target: Dallas has been lambasted by fans, pundits and managers for his decision-making for many years (Picture from BBC Scotland)

As far as the limelight in Scottish football is concerned, referee Andrew Dallas isn’t normally too far away from the headlines – for one reason or another.

He has been the subject of ridicule and constant criticism since taking up the whistle in 2012/13, particularly when stepping up to the unforgiving environment of the Scottish Premiership at the start of the 2014/15 season.

It would be fair to say it has sometimes been warranted but too often it has gone too far, although not quite to the level experienced by his colleague Willie Collum, who received death threats after awarding a controversial penalty in an Old Firm match in 2010.

Dallas has often been too brash and almost tried too hard to get himself noticed but has come a long way since being branded ‘devious and manipulative’ by Kenny Shiels in 2013 and ‘not ready’ to officiate in the top flight by John Hughes in 2015.

Mistakes are part and parcel of the game and a referee’s development. Like any official, he has had his fair share.

Referee Andrew Dallas
Top flight: Dallas has handled more than 50 Premiership games since his promotion in 2014 (Picture from Sky Sports)

Dallas wrongly booked Hearts midfielder Malaury Martin, thinking he had tripped Motherwell’s Louis Moult, when in fact the striker had fallen over his own team-mate Lionel Ainsworth in a Premiership clash at Tynecastle in February 2017. In fairness, he later rang then Hearts boss Ian Cathro to apologise for the error.

Back in August, Partick Thistle boss Alan Archibald was left in doubt that Dallas should have awarded a last-minute penalty for his side, who were trailing 1-0 to Celtic in the Glasgow derby at Firhill when Nir Bitton appeared to impede Miles Storey in the box.

More recently, he gave St Johnstone midfielder David Wotherspoon his marching orders for a second bookable offence in their 1-0 defeat at Hearts – a decision which was branded ‘ridiculous’ by Saints boss Tommy Wright, who appears to have his own vendetta against Dallas.

“Same old, same old with that same referee,” Wright told BBC Scotland after the game. “I have been [disappointed] most of the times I’ve had him. I have probably spoken to [SFA Head of Referee Operations] John Fleming more about Andrew Dallas than any referee. Nothing seems to change.”

He has been under-fire and naturally took time to adapt to the rigours of the rough and tumble of Premiership football but has come on leaps and downs, in the last 12 months alone.

Earlier this month, Dallas was slammed on social media for disallowing an early goal for Motherwell in their Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Hearts but, by the letter of the law, which the referees know inside out, he was spot on as Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin had the ball within his grasp – even if it was just with one hand.

He was also right to award Hearts a penalty after Cedric Kipre wiped out Steven Naismith and ignore appeals for a second spotkick for Craig Levein’s side late on for handball after the ball struck Andy Rose, but it wasn’t intentional. Getting the big calls right is the main thing that should be expected of a referee and he did that in the important tie at Fir Park.

His appointment to the second major domestic showpiece of the season – the Challenge Cup final between Dumbarton and Inverness Caley Thistle – was fully merited and will no doubt be the first final of many for the 35-year-old during his career.

Although it’s the least glamorous trophy of them all, it was still a big occasion for the two Championship clubs that he knew well, at a ground he has become accustomed to refereeing at in St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park.

Proud moment: Dallas lined up alongside assistants David Roome and Daniel McFarlane ahead of his first major final (Picture from BBC ALBA)

He put in a solid display overall and stayed under the radar – issuing five yellow cards and correctly awarding Inverness a late penalty for handball by Dumbarton left-back Chris McLaughlin, which Iain Vigurs had saved by Sons stopper Scott Gallacher before Carl Tremarco spared his team-mate’s blushes with a last-gasp winner.

Being awarded the final of the competition which is primarily for Championship, League One and League Two clubs in Scotland acted as a springboard in the successful careers of fellow officials Craig Thomson and Calum Murray, to name but two.

Despite some boos ringing around the ground as he stepped up to collect his medal after the game, Dallas could be happy of his performance and undoubtedly his father Hugh would have been proud of his display as he watched on from the stands.

Dallas has the shadow of his dad – the last Scotsman to go to a World Cup who spent 15 years officiating in Scotland before hanging up his whistle in 2005 – to contend with and there are always going to be comparisons drawn between them.

Roles: Dallas acted as a referee observer for the SPL and then UEFA after retiring as a referee (Picture from Zimbio.co.uk)

But he has spoken in the past about how his old man has been “invaluable” to him and he was the one who suggested that he took up the whistle in the first place. Claims that he has progressed as far as he has to date because of his father’s stature are also unfair, because he has reached the highest level on merit through his own hard work and determination.

Dallas has already demonstrated his capabilities and didn’t get fast-tracked on to the Fifa list in January 2015 for no reason.

2017/18 really has been a breakthrough campaign for the promising official, who has handled matches in the Europa League, a 2018 World Cup qualifier, a Champions League qualifier and numerous European youth games.

Closer to home, he’s been trusted with some key top-flight matches – including an Edinburgh derby debut in October, Rangers’ 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Ibrox in November and Hibernian’s 2-0 victory over the Dons in another significant contest in the battle to finish the best of the rest behind Celtic.

It is evident that the Scottish Football Association are fully behind Dallas, who is not afraid to give big decisions and generally stays calm under intense pressure – even on the big stage.

With Collum and Thomson out in front as Scotland’s leading officials, Dallas has some way to go to join the elite but the signs are there that he can at least be third in line for high-profile games on the domestic front and even go on to follow the footsteps of the pair – and his father before them – on the European and international scene.

He has already reaped the benefits of working closely with Collum, who he has regularly trained with, and being coached by fellow Fifa whistler Steven McLean.

“They’ve been fantastic in offering advice and encouragement and they’re always available for a chat about decisions and incidents from matches,” Dallas once said in an interview.

Referee Andrew Dallas in action
On the way up: Dallas has rapidly risen through the ranks but still has work to do to reach the levels his father Hugh did during his distinguished career (Picture from Sky Sports)

He got a bird’s eye view of Collum’s excellent display in Celtic’s 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox as the fourth official – a selective appointment made with careful consideration.

Selecting him to carry out electronic board duties undoubtedly had the near future in mind and suggests an Old Firm derby debut in the middle isn’t too far away, particularly as he’s the last of the seven Fifa referees to get a first taste of one of world football’s fiercest rivalries.

It could happen as early as next month in the Scottish Cup semi-final showdown at Hampden Park but it’s more likely to be a more experienced official in charge given the magnitude of the occasion.

Last May, former top-flight referee Charlie Richmond expressed his belief that Dallas is under more pressure to perform than some of his colleagues because of his father and still had plenty to prove.

“If he is to avoid having the mud slung at him, he has to cut out the big mistakes because they are becoming too regular,” he wrote in his Daily Record column.

This season has been one of real progress for Dallas, who has learned a lot and proven he’s not just a rookie and gaffe-prone referee but can handle matches at a high level.

He still has hurdles to climb over but, with age on his side and advice readily on hand in the form of his old man, he has the potential to be the cream of the crop – if fans and pundits alike can cut him some slack and let him develop.

POLL: Have your say about Andrew Dallas by casting your vote below…

Opinion: Alexis Sanchez can be the answer for Manchester United

It might have been against lowly opposition in Yeovil Town, but Alexis Sanchez has already shown he can make the ultimate difference for the Reds.

It might have only been against lowly Yeovil Town, but Alexis Sanchez showed on his Manchester United debut just what all the fuss has been about.

The chase to secure his signature went on for months and the discussion over what part he would play in Friday’s Emirates FA Cup fourth-round tie began almost from the moment his eagerly awaited arrival from Arsenal was announced on Monday evening.

The sense of anticipation at Huish Park reached fever pitch once the team news was revealed and Jose Mourinho understood the forward’s desperation to play, even though he has been short of match action recently, by including him in the starting line-up.

It didn’t take long for Alexis to make his mark and he was involved in all the good things United did, taking the game to Yeovil at times and seeing a lot of the ball.

The difficult surface at Huish Park often made the ball bounce awkwardly but the first Chilean to represent the Reds in a competitive match didn’t let that deter him, even if every touch wasn’t totally assured, and his close control was excellent at times.

It wasn’t a vintage performance by him or United, particularly in the first half, as he gave the ball away a few times and was on the receiving end of some heavy tackles – including an absolute cruncher from Yeovil’s Nathan Smith which saw the defender rightly booked.

Focus: All eyes were on the Chilean to see how he would perform on his United debut – and he didn’t disappoint the club’s supporters

Starting out wide on the left, the 29-year-old tried to influence proceedings as best he could and often drifted inside, exuding confidence with every touch and lifting the tempo.

The closest he came to scoring was a drilled low effort which he dragged wide and a free-kick from 25 yards which dipped comfortably into the midriff of Yeovil keeper Artur Krysiak.

A lot has been spoken about the need for United to kill off teams on the counter attack when in control, having failed to do so in many games recently – including the 2-2 draw at Leicester just before Christmas and last weekend’s 1-0 win at Burnley.

Although it was the ninth time this season the Reds have hit four in a match, United have often been profligate in the final third, choosing the wrong option or lacking the final ball and finish.

But Alexis already illustrated the difference he can make by having a hand in the first two of the Reds’ four goals, playing a simple pass through towards attacking spearhead Marcus Rashford who seized upon defensive certainty to score the decisive opener just before half-time before sliding the ball into Ander Herrera who finished off a swift breakaway with a clinical finish to make it 2-0.

In doing so, he showed that he can be the answer to the main problem and is what Mourinho has been looking for to complete the attacking part of his team.

The stage: The 9,500-capacity Huish Park was the setting for one of world football’s most talented players to shine on his first appearance in United’s famous no.7 shirt

Alexis also laid on other opportunities for his new team-mates, who have already spoken about how impressed they have been by how he has quickly settled into life at Old Trafford in his first week.

Mourinho has already spoken about his ability to occupy every attacking position in his team and his versatility, as well as his will to win and lack of frustration even when losing the ball, makes him an all-round player that can be the complete package.

Sanchez in fact lost the ball 31 times but his risk-taking and high-energy display was rewarded and his involvement in the game was key, demanding the ball at every opportunity. He may have only been on the field for 72 minutes before being replaced by Jesse Lingard but the former Barcelona man was the clear Man of the Match and the standout player for United.

It’s still early days, it was only against a struggling League Two club and he knows he can play even better but the signs are already positive and the travelling United fans will have made the long trip home from Somerset convinced that their new no.7 can be the missing piece to the puzzle in a bid to bring the big trophies back to the Theatre of Dreams.

From the humble surroundings of Huish Park, Alexis can look forward to his Premier League debut for the Reds on the grandest of stages as United face Tottenham on Wednesday night at Wembley – a venue at which he boasts a formidable record and scored on his last appearance in last season’s FA Cup final as Arsenal beat Chelsea to lift the trophy.

For Alexis, it was a great start to his United career and things can only get better from here on in. Tougher tests undoubtedly lie ahead but the experienced forward has already shown glimpses of the world-class talent that he is and will relish the challenge to prove that he can be the player to make the ultimate difference.

In the words of BBC pundit Alan Shearer, the Reds have got “one hell of a player” and, on the evidence of his successful three-and-a-half-year stint at Arsenal and his first 70-odd minutes in a United shirt, it’s difficult to disagree.

Manchester United v Liverpool: Why Spidercam heaps more pressure on Michael Oliver

The additional technology at Old Trafford is likely to put the referee’s every decision under even more scrutiny than normal.

spidercam-in-operation
Different: Spidercam, which has also been used in cricket, offers a unique viewing experience and many will be looking forward to seeing it in the English top-flight for the first time

With cameras covering almost every angle and every decision magnified however small it may seem, the job of match officials has never been tougher.

Although referees are getting fitter, so are the players and a modern Premier League game played at an electrifying pace is increasingly difficult to keep up with for the men in the middle – some of which are in their 40s or 50s.

Television coverage is becoming more expensive for companies to acquire and their eagerness to improve the service they provide for viewers means changes are being made all the time.

And the introduction of the ‘Spidercam’ for this weekend’s blockbuster at Old Trafford is the latest addition by Sky Sports to make those watching on TV feel like they are a supporter inside the stadium.

Crews have been busy installing the 3D camera system, which slides across wires above the pitch, throughout the week and it will undoubtedly enhance the experience for armchair fans by bringing them closer to the action.

But, for officials going about their business, the extra feature will only increase the pressure to ensure their decision-making is impeccable and intensify scrutiny should they make a wrong call.

old-trafford-full-time-v-man-city-10th-sept-2016
First: Old Trafford will be the first stadium in the Premier League to experience the Spidercam (Picture from Sky Sports)

The use of the Spidercam at World Cups, European Championships and the Champions League in recent years has given competitions at the top of the game a revolutionary new dimension.

With the 360-degree camera roving across the pitch, it can reach as high as 10 metres above the playing surface and be operated from pitchside.

It will come to the fore for corners, penalties or free-kicks and, given the number of set-pieces in every single game and the amount of grappling that goes on inside the box, the footage is likely to leave officials even more red-faced if they fail to identify even the slightest infringements.

During a time when referees are being criticised on an almost weekly basis, they will have to brace themselves for further scrutiny if and when the Spidercam is rolled out in every ground.

With instant reaction, pundits often make the life of officials difficult and the use of this technology will spearhead the post-match analysis through an array of optimum replays, with decisions likely to be under the microscope more than ever.

A series of controversial red cards lately will not have helped to convince fans that standards are improving, which is certainly a bone of contention, but their esteemed reputation worldwide remains upheld.

Although some Select Group officials have operated at major tournaments before, most recently Martin Atkinson and Mark Clattenburg at Euro 2016, many will not have officiated with this technology.

Michael Oliver, who is tasked with taking charge of Manchester United against Liverpool on Sunday, is still relatively new to the European and international circuit but, with his 32nd birthday approaching next month, he is one of the youngest and fittest officials in the Premier League.

michael-oliver-referee-west-ham-v-man-city-fa-cup-6th-jan-2017
Man in the middle: Oliver has been a Premier League referee since 2010 – the same year Spidercam was used at a major football tournament (Picture from BBC Sport)

Having overseen United’s 3-1 home win over their north West rivals last season, previous experience of what can be one of English football’s most fiery occasions will stand the Fifa official in good stead.

But nothing can prepare him for what lies ahead once the whistle has blown and an auxiliary camera is hovering directly above watching his every move.

Of course, with the stakes high, the right decisions must be made but, whilst the Spidercam is a broadcasting innovation, a reminder that officials are only human is often needed and giving fans a birds-eye view of proceedings won’t do their cause much good.

Not normally afraid to make a big decision, Oliver – who will be relieved he hasn’t had the same media storm follow him in the same way Anthony Taylor did before the reverse fixture – knows he needs to be at his best but he is the ideal man to illustrate that the officials can handle any extra pressure heaped on them.

Although the Spidercam is effectively on trial at Old Trafford, it won’t be long before every Premier League game will have this additional feature – if the successful implementation of goal-line technology and exploration of further video technology is anything to go by.

And match officials must be ready to raise their performance to another level and react in a positive manner, otherwise their confidence may suffer to the extent that it may be beyond repair.

Have your say…

SkyBet Football League: 20 questions ahead of 2016-17 season

Ahead of the start of the 2016-17 campaign, here are 20 questions across the three divisions to keep in mind as the games progress.

Ball and vanishing spray (Reading v QPR - 3rd Dec 2015)
Rebrand: The Football League has been christened the English Football League from this season but will still be sponsored by SkyBet (Picture from Sky Sports)

AS the days count down until the first ball is kicked to launch the most eagerly-awaited Football League season in years, there are a number of things to keep a close eye on.

From managerial arrivals and the battle for promotion to new faces settling in at clubs and who is going to find it tough to survive, there are sub-plots galore across the Championship, League One and League Two in 2016-17.

Here are 20 questions which will hopefully be answered by the time the play-offs come around in May…


QUESTIONS:

Rafael Benitez in dugout (v Man City - 19th April 2016)
Times quickly change: The former Liverpool boss was in charge of Spanish giants Real Madrid 12 months ago (Picture from Sky Sports)

1)    Will Rafael Benitez guide Newcastle to an immediate top-flight return?

2)    How will Burton Albion fare on their Championship debut?

3)    Is Chris Wilder the man to take Sheffield United up from League One at long last?

Nigel Clough on sidelines (v Southend - 22nd Feb 2016)
Unchartered territory: The former Derby boss helped the Brewers secure successive promotions last term in his second spell in charge (Picture from Sky Sports)

4)    Will Championship defences be terrified of Wigan Athletic’s Will Grigg?

5)    What does the campaign hold for beleaguered Aston Villa, under new management?

6)    Can Rotherham United kick on under Alan Stubbs?

Alan Stubbs watches on (3-0 v Alloa - 21st Feb 2016)
New league: Former Everton defender Stubbs is fresh from guiding Hibernian to their first Scottish Cup triumph since 1902 (Picture from Sky Sports)

7)    Can Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday bounce back after play-off disappointment?

8)    How will newly-promoted Grimsby Town adapt to life back in the Football League?

9)    Will the league meetings of AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons live up to expectation?

Chris Hughton and Carlos Carvalhal
Working wonders: Brighton boss Chris Hughton (left) and Wednesday head coach Carlos Carvalhal guided their teams to the play-offs against the odds (Picture from Sky Sports)

10)   Is this the year Leeds United sustain a Championship play-off push?

11)    Will Portsmouth finally make the first step on the road to recovery?

12)    Was the decision to replace Kenny Jackett with Walter Zenga right for Wolves?

13)    How will the fresh faces in Lancashire get on at their respective new clubs?

Lancashire new managers 2016-17
(Clockwise, from top left)  Blackpool’s Gary Bowyer, Uwe Rosler at Fleetwood, Blackburn’s Owen Coyle and Phil Parkinson at Bolton all have new jobs in the county

14)    Is the legendary Jaap Stam cut out for being a Championship manager?

15)    Do the likes of Ipswich Town, Birmingham and Cardiff City have enough for another top-six finish in the Championship?

16)    What does the campaign have in store for Northampton Town under Rob Page in League One?

17)    Are Bradford equipped for a Championship challenge on Stuart McCall’s return?

Stuart McCall at Ibrox (Rangers v Cowdenbeath Scottish Cup - 10th Jan 2016)
Back on familiar ground: The ex-Rangers and Motherwell manager, 52, was first at the helm at Valley Parade between 2007 and 2010 (Picture from Sky Sports)

18)    Can Darrell Clarke continue the remarkable Bristol Rovers revival?

19)    Will Hartlepool United be able to avoid falling down the trapdoor into the National League once again?

20)    Can Derby County’s talented crop fulfil their potential under Nigel Pearson?

Nigel Pearson on sidelines (v Chelsea - 29th April 2015)
Experience: The ex-Hull City boss masterminded Leicester’s remarkable turnaround to avoid Premier League relegation in 2014-15 (Picture from Sky Sports)

ANALYSIS: Celtic’s Scottish Cup win over Hibernian shows they are the best

Celtic end a successful season on a high and illustrate why they are the best team in Scotland with a crushing Scottish Cup final win over Hibernian, who still have room for improvement.

Hampden Park (ahead of Scots Lge Cup semi Rangers v Celtic - 1st Feb 2015)
Triumphant: Celtic came out on top in the 2013 Scottish Cup Final against Hibs at Hampden (Picture via Flickr)

CELTIC expressed why they are the best side in the country on a sunny afternoon at the national stadium by blowing away a Hibs side who have improved this season and were much better than a year ago against Hearts but still showed there are considerable shortcomings. 

A Scottish Cup and SPL double, as well as a run to the Champions League knockout stages, presents a triumphant campaign for the Glasgow side in a year in which they were expected to take a clean sweep in the silverware stakes in the absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers in the top division.

It hasn’t been entirely plain sailing but they have got there in the end. In terms of the final, it was as comfortable as the scoreline suggests and, from the moment they took the lead inside eight minutes, they didn’t look back and there was going to be only one outcome.

Hibs began brightly and should have been in front before conceding the first goal. If Eoin Doyle heads that either side of Fraser Forster, it’s 1-0 to Hibs and there would probably have been a totally different complexion.

The connection was far too central and the keeper has ended up making a brilliant reaction stop.

Such is the ruthless nature of a team of Celtic’s stature, they make you pay instantly.

Hibernian have struggled to deal with crosses all season long. It has undoubtedly been their achilles heel and this fraility was evident in the first half in particular.

Ryan McGivern doesn’t get back at the far post to track Gary Hooper. The cross was absolutely perfect with pace and directness from Stokes. It was a dream of a ball right on the money for Hooper, whose finish was difficult to execute but well accomplished.

Stokes and Hooper have been tearing defences apart in the SPL since they started working in tandon three years ago and it was like friends reunited today. The pair worked so well together.

Pat Fenlon won’t be happy at all about the defending for the goals which really was abysmal, as seen for the second when Stokes had all the time in the world to pick out his strike partner again.

Hibs struggled to create meaningful scoring opportunities in the opening 45 minutes. The lead was unassailable at half-time as Celtic were over the hills and far away.

Celtic and Gary Hooper showed their killer instinct to great effect and that was the difference. Joe Ledley has enjoyed an outstanding campaign and it was a fitting moment for him to add his name to the scoresheet in the second half having missed the final two years ago through injury.

It took him to double figures this season in terms of goals and is a player that has thrived on the big stage this term, establishing himself as one of the first names on Neil Lennon’s team sheet. He couldn’t have hit it any better.

It was a second half which didn’t light up but trust Scott Brown to spice the affair up with his usual tricks in starting a tussle over nothing. It at least woke many of us from our slumber as the pace and tempo seemed flat rather than the intense nature of the first half.

The talk about whether Neil Lennon will stay on as manager will loom large even more now after this victory. Whether he stays put or ups sticks is anyone’s guess but if was to make tracks, he would be leaving a successful club in a fruitful position having laid down the foundations to kick on to bigger and better things in the coming years.

People will question how Celtic could possibly build on this year’s success next season. For me, it’s quite simple. They can win the treble, which is no easy feat for any team in any league.

There is always room for improvement in any side and they could manage it if they hold on to their prized assets. Hibs didn’t play too badly but were beaten on the day by a far better team.

Losing Leigh Griffiths will be a monumental blow and will leave a huge void in attack and massive shoes to fill. Replacing his goals will be extremely difficult, but not as difficult as lifting the oldest cup in football it seems.

The long wait to lift the Scottish Cup for the Hibs fans goes on. If you’re counting, I make it 112 years.