NEVER have I felt as sorry for Wigan Athletic as I did after the Stamford Bridge debacle on Saturday.
Perhaps a few of the most zealous Chelsea fans may disagree, but just about everyone else thinks that the Latics were robbed of a draw if not victory by poor officiating.
Roberto Martinez’s withering attack on the competence of an assistant referee after the match was given extra force because he is certainly not one of the Premier League’s terminal whingers.
Laid back he may usually be, but few doubt his passion for the Wigan cause and he knows more than anyone how crucial those points dropped due to two bad off-side decisions could be to the whole future of the club.
The third apology from referees chief Mike Riley this season was further recognition of the injustice as it sought to smooth the waters. But it doesn’t help Wigan’s cause.
How bitter it would be if the Latics succumb to relegation now by the margin of those points, especially knowing how difficult it is to get back into the top flight once pushed out of it.
Martinez has said that he does not want to make this an issue about a failure to introduce technology that could eliminate such errors, saying that all that is required is for the officials to do their jobs properly.
But, with so much at stake (especially financially), I see no good reason why even the best refs and linesmen can’t be given an extra hand so that all teams can win and lose as fairly as possible.
Not for the first time do I point out that in tennis, a contest on a much smaller field of play between just two or four contenders has for decades been policed by a dozen officials and, since the 1980s, had technology such as Hawkeye, to reinforce or contradict their decisions.
Cricket has perhaps grudgingly at first accepted gismos such as the Snickometer and replays but is now the better for it.
Meanwhile on a large football field with 22 folk going pell-mell all over the place, we content ourselves with just three arbiters and no electronic assistance.
I know there are those who argue that human frailties should be allowed even in officiating and that computerised analysis and replays might undermine the referee’s authority. It is also claimed that pauses to question decisions will also break up the flow of the game.
But in a sport where one shot in 90 minutes can be the difference between winning, losing or drawing, it is surely a small sacrifice to make.
More officials or the addition of technology, I don’t mind which they bring in just so long as they help to avoid a fiasco like the Wigan-Chelsea game.
Meanwhile Latics can only take heart from dear old John Motson who commentated on the match.
He says that if Wigan play like they did against Chelsea for the rest of the season there is no way they will go down. But you also have to factor in future refereeing decisions.