Ref Watch: Barnsley (A)

Credit Graham Burrell

Assistants: Daniel Woodward and Alan Clayton
Fourth Official: Danny Gratton

Our referee is a newbie to the Football League – one of eight promoted in the summer. Ben Atkinson hadn’t officiated in League One before coming to Sincil Bank earlier in the season as we beat Cheltenham 2-0. He’s a dental surgeon in his ‘real’ life, so let’s hope his performance isn’t akin to pulling teeth (I used that joke last time).

Sadly, last time, it was a bit like pulling teeth, without an anaesthetic.

Credit Graham Burrell

“I’ve defended referees of late, but I do find it a little hard to fully defend Atkinson,” I wrote in September. “Oddly, it’s not the major incidents that people were angry about that have irked me; it’s the inconsistency. For instance, Adam Jackson was booked early for a foul (where he looked to win the ball for me), but identical offences committed by the visitors went unpunished. There were seven yellow cards in total, including the one issued to Mark Kennedy, and I don’t recall a single bad foul all game.”

On the second page of the article, I carried on.

“I know one moment had a lot of us scratching our heads, and I’m happy to be corrected here. It came late on after Jovon had come on. He played a ball around the corner to Burroughs and was ‘fouled’ by Bevan. It wasn’t a foul, and the ref waved play on. The flag then went up against Burroughs, who was not offside as Freestone was playing him on, but the ref didn’t see it. Burroughs had an effort, saved, and the ref brought play back for the free kick. When Hamilton tried to take it quickly, the ref wanted it moved two feet back, and as Hamilton walked away, he said something and was booked. His shrug and look of confusion says everything. Shirt pulling is fine, apparently, but contesting a decision is not. We have to find a balance here.”

Credit Graham Burrell

I’m not the only one to criticise him this season – Brett Ormerod had some harsh words a couple of weeks later after he officiated their defeat against Peterborough. “The referee made some poor decisions. He made some really poor decisions. There was a blatant penalty when I thought there was a foul on CH Hamilton. That’s when it was 3-2. On first look, it seems like the Peterborough defender has both arms around him and drags him down.”

He’s officiated 14 matches in League Two this season, so we’ll pull his stats from there. He’s 29/62 for fouls per game, so middle of the road, but 45 for fouls per tackle, which means he tends to let the games flow a little more than most, but he’s just had games with a high number of tackles. He’s 27/62 for yellows per game as well, which indicates consistency. Maybe me and Brett Ormerod just caught him on off days.

What’s perhaps worrying is those two matches, along with Reading and Fleetwood in October, are probably the biggest he has officiated in. It’ll be interesting to see if this weekend, where the attendance is likely to be the biggest he has had to deal with in his career, makes a difference.