“They love talking about decisions over here, don’t they?”.
That was the reaction of Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou when quizzed about the refereeing for his team’s win over Hearts.
The Scottish Premiership title challengers took a 2-1 win at Tynecastle but there was controversy over their second goal, as well as Liam Boyce’s strike that got the Jambos back in it.
Postecoglou was more interested in talking about the way his team played, while Robbie Neilson confessed his side weren’t good enough in the first 45 minutes. It was an enthralling 90 minutes of breathless football.
While the Celtic boss may not like it though, it’s inevitable that there will be discussion when officials make contentious calls.
So, with apologies to Ange, here’s what John Beaton got right and wrong in five key moments of the match.
The first controversy of the match surrounded the goal that made it 2-0 to the visitors as Giorgos Giakoumakis cleverly flicked home at the front post.
The Greek striker got across John Souttar to turn in an O’Riley cross, but did he go too early?
There’s no question that his is a very tight one and without VAR it’s probably impossible to give a definitive answer as to whether he was offside.
The offside law states that any part of the body you can score with being offside should see a goal disallowed, meaning the arm doesn’t count.
In this example it does appear that Giakoumakis’ knee is beyond Souttar, therefore making him offside, and the line drawn on the BBC analysis of the game suggests as much.
It’s worth noting though that in the absence of VAR the analysis is being done along one plane.
When goals are checked by technology two lines are drawn, one 2D one as in the image above and a second crosshair image drawn against the parts of the body of attacking and defending players that can be used to score goals.
That creates a 3D vertical line which the officials reviewing the play can move and look at from different angles to determine to within the width of a pixel whether an offside has occurred.
That’s not in place here so it’s difficult to be definitive on whether Giakoumakis was offside, but it does appear he was just off.
Earlier in the move the ball hit either the arm or shoulder of O’Riley but that doesn’t come into play. Hearts won the ball back after that, then lost it again, and the law states a goal can only be called back if a player scores “immediately after” a handball offense.
Verdict: probably off side
Celtic penalty shout
The Celtic fans behind the goal felt their side should have had a second half penalty for a handball by Stephen Kingsley.
Unlike the other decisions we’ll be looking at here though this is a fairly straightforward one.
The IFAB rule on handball states it’s an offense when a player “touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation.”
Kingsley’s arm was across his chest so it’s not a spot kick.
Verdict: no penalty
Another controversial – and tight – offside call came when Liam Boyce pulled one back for Hearts.
The striker picked up a pass and coolly slotted under Joe Hart but Celtic were adamant he had strayed beyond the last man.
This appears more of a clear offside than the Giakoumakis goal but still one that’s hard to spot in real time.
And, once again, the lack of a 3D picture makes it difficult to determine whether this one should have been ruled out.
If you look at the image above, the right foot of Cameron Carter-Vickers is where the offside line would be drawn from.
Boyce’s arm is clearly beyond that but remember – that isn’t taken into account.
The question therefore becomes whether his head was offside as that’s a part of his body he can legally score with.
The Sportscene graphic suggests it was but – stop us if you’ve heard this one – it’s only a 2D picture from one angle and that makes it difficult to say for certain.
Once again it’s probably offside but it’s a far tighter call than it first appears and the officials deserve credit for playing a good advantage in the build-up after a push from Carl Starfelt.
Verdict: probably off side
It wouldn’t be a round of Premiership action without some penalty controversy to analyze and we got one at Tynecastle.
Boyce had the chance to make it 2-2 from 12 yards but saw his kick come off the inside of the post and roll agonizingly along the line – it was so close it was behind Joe Hart – and out.
This one takes a bit of unpacking as there were actually two potential handball offenses in quick succession.
The first was the above by Nir Bitton and given the handball definition above it’s hard to argue against this being a penalty.
As Celtic fans will have noticed though the midfielder does have an arm on his shoulder as he goes up for the header.
Enough for a free-kick? It’s a foul when a player “impedes an opponent with contact”, so ultimately it’s for Beaton to decide if this was enough to stop Bitton playing the ball.
It may be that the referee decided that it was neither a foul nor a handball as the Celtic man’s arm being in that position was “justifiable by the player’s body movement in that specific situation”.
There was another potential handball by O’Riley immediately after which appears clear cut, and as they happened in quick succession it’s not clear which the penalty was given for.
It’s probably a handball either way but if it was given on Bitton he could argue he was fouled.
Verdict: Penalty but possibly a missed foul
bitton red card
The final controversy also involved Bitton and surrounded whether he should have been given a red card.
The midfielder was booked – perhaps harshly – on 53 minutes but escaped sanction for blocking a pass with his hand.
Bitton’s action was clearly deliberate to stop the ball being played to Peter Haring.
The law states that a booking should be dished out if a player “handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack”.
Haring would have had space to turn into it, albeit a long way from goal, so does this fall under the definition?
The laws of the game don’t offer a hard and fast definition but referees are told to consider three things: speed, space, options.
The first is whether the player is moving forward with pace, the second calls for “green space in front of the player with the ball to dribble, pass or shoot” or space a team-mate could run into.
The third is whether the player could take on a defender or find a team-mate.
It’s a subjective decision but Bitton can probably consider himself lucky here.
Verdict: second yellow card
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.