One of the issues which has buzzed around the forum in recent weeks has been refereeing standards and consistency. Sometimes this is raised as part of the ‘agenda’ argument in the context of the rags appearing to get a lot more favourable decisions than us. Other times simply in the context of refereeing standards generally being poor this season. With this in mind, I did some research on City games this season featuring Sunday’s referee Lee Mason. The results are, frankly, worrying.
First, the results we have achieved with this referee in charge this season are not encouraging. He has refereed City matches three times - Swansea (a) West Brom (a) and Liverpool (h) (CC semi 1st leg). Despite averaging 2.5 goals per game away from home this season and 3 goals per game at home, we have not scored a single goal when he has been in charge. We lost to a late goal away at Swansea, drew 0-0 away at West Brom, and lost to an early penalty in the 1st leg of the Carling Cup.
The fact that we have not scored a single goal in 270 minutes of football officiated over by Mr Mason is remarkable compared to how we have fared with other referees in charge. Mike Jones has refereed us three times this season (Blackburn home, Liverpool home, Bolton away) and we have scored a total of 9 goals with him in charge. Martin Atkinson has refereed us 4 times (Wigan away, Liverpool away, QPR away, Wigan home) and we have scored a total of 8 goals with him in charge. Under Howard Webb it is 11 goals in 4 games (Stoke away, Spurs home, Norwich home, Everton home), with Phil Dowd in charge it is 15 in 6 games (Arsenal away, Sunderland home, Arsenal home, Blackburn away, Tottenham away and Liverpool away CC semi final 2nd leg). Even with Foy and Clattenberg we keep up the average – under Foy we have scored 11 in 3 games (Norwich away, Newcastle home and – of course - rags at home in FAC 3rd round) and under Clattenberg 11 in 4 games (Bolton home, Chelsea away, United away, Fulham away).
So if you exclude referees who have only refereed us once like Stuart Attwell or Anthony Taylor (as I would have thought one game is not enough to be statistically significant) this season we have scored on average between 2 and 3 goals a game no matter who the referee is. Except, that is, when Mr Mason is in charge, who is yet to award a single Manchester City goal.
Then there is the way he appears to referee the games we play in as evidenced by the red and yellow cards shown. (A lot of stats are in here which don’t make easy reading, but stick with it.)
Mr Mason’s wikipedia entry contains figures for the cards he issued in each season up to the present one. Last season, he refereed 33 games issuing 135 yellow cards and 5 reds in the process. By that standard, he neither appears to be exceptionally lenient nor particularly harsh: in the same season Martin Atkinson issued 143 yellows and 13 reds in 41 games, Mike Dean 147 yellows and 7 reds in 43 games and Mark Clattenberg 123 yellows and 7 reds in 40 games. So far as this season is concerned, Sport UK did a piece featured on Microsoft news not long ago based on stats from Opta, in which they said “Lee Mason has been the most lenient referee, showing a card only for every 8.3 fouls and, in 13 matches, is yet to send a player off.” That of course was written before he had refereed the United/QPR game.
So, against the background of him not being a particularly trigger-happy referee in terms of issuing cards, I was not surprised to see that in the 3 City fixtures he has refereed this season he had only issued 1 yellow card against City’s opponents. That yellow card was given against Carragher during the home leg of the Carling Cup semi final. But as many reading this will remember, that ’tackle’ was a clear two-footed lunge, which even Alan Hansen recognised was rather worse than the one for which Vincent Kompany had been dismissed by Chris Foy against the rags just a few days earlier. That willingness to show a yellow for a red card incident is troubling on its own.
The match stats for the three City fixtures Mr Mason has refereed are available via the BBC website. They show that in those games Mr Mason showed 4 yellow cards to City players in total – 2 at Swansea, one at West Brom, one against Liverpool. Now, 4 cards in 3 games doesn’t seem particularly excessive. And when you remember the Opta stat indicating that on average Mr Mason issues a card for every 8.3 fouls, those four cards – given that we committed in total 33 fouls in those 4 games - seems to be about par for the course.
But then you look at how our opponents were treated in those three games. Swansea committed 9 fouls against City without any yellow cards being issued (City were given 2 yellows in the same game having committed 14 fouls). West Brom committed 8 fouls without earning any yellow cards, whereas in the same game City committed 9 fouls earning one yellow card. Against Liverpool we got one card having committed 10 fouls, they got one yellow (which should have been a straight red) having committed 11 fouls. So taking the three games Mr Mason has refereed together, whilst the cards he issues against City are almost exactly in line with his season average he has issued only one card against City’s opponents despite 27 fouls being committed. The stats indicate that he is a lot more tolerant of fouls committed against City than in relation to any other team.
With this in mind, I looked at the stats from games in which Mr Mason refereed the other teams around us - say last year’s top 4 teams. How do the stats compare?
He has refereed two rag league games this season, both of which the rags won. There was the 2-0 win against QPR when Ashley Young “won” a very early penalty which Derry was wrongly sent off for. QPR committed 10 fouls but did not get any further cards. United committed 13 fouls during that game receiving 1 yellow card. Then there was a 1-0 win against Sunderland, when Sunderland got two yellow cards having committed 14 fouls, and the rags having committed 6 fouls did not receive any cards. As for arsenal, Mason has refereed them twice in the league this season: a 1-0 win away at Everton, and a 3-1 home win over Stoke. In those two games, the total of 20 fouls committed by Arsenal produced one yellow card, the 24 fouls committed against Arsenal produced 4 yellow cards. He has refereed Chelsea three times in the league: a 4-2 win at home to Villa, a 3-0 win at home to Wolves, and a 2-1 win at home to West Brom. In those three games, Chelsea were issued with 3 yellow cards having committed 30 fouls in total, their opponents were issued with 7 yellow cards having committed 32 fouls in total. (I did say it was dry.)
So - here is the important bit - Mr Mason’s “fouls to cards” ratio when fouls are committed by City players is about 8 to 1, but the ratio is 19 to 1 when fouls are committed by United players, 20 to 1 when committed by Arsenal players and 10 to 1 when committed by Chelsea players. But when fouls are committed against City players, only 1 foul from 27 has attracted a caution (and that should have been a red) but when fouls are committed against United players the ratio is 3 cards in 24 (including Derry’s red card), when committed against Arsenal players it is 4 in 24 and when fouls are committed against Chelsea players it is 7 in 32.
Having mentioned the Ashley Young/Shaun Derry incident, what about penalties in City games featuring Mr Mason? Again, the stats are revealing and worrying. We have earned 7 penalties this season, none of which were awarded by Mr Mason. 7 penalties in 37 games equates to a penalty every 475 minutes - one every five games or so. Against that background, Mr Mason’s failure to award City a penalty in the three games he has refereed is not especially troubling.
But what about penalties awarded against City? This season, unless I’ve missed some out, penalties have been awarded against us in domestic competition this season on five occasions – Liverpool away (CC), Liverpool home (CC), Swansea away, Wolves home and Chelsea away. So far as Wolves home and Chelsea away are concerned, I don’t think most blues would complain – the Lescott penalty at Chelsea seemed harsh in the match situation, for instance, but no more harsh than the penalty given against Bosingwa at our place for a very similar offence, and the penalty given against Micah Richards at Anfield was just plain wrong.
That leaves the penalties given at Swansea and in the first leg of the CC semi - both of which were given by Mr Mason.
This produces a remarkable series of statistics. We have played 40 domestic games this season so far (not including Community Shield). Three penalties have been awarded against us in the 37 games which did not involve Mr Mason as referee; but two penalties have been awarded against us in the three games Mr Mason did handle. To put the same point slightly differently, Mr Mason has refereed only 7.5% of our games this season but has given 40% of the penalties against us. Three penalties in 37 games without Mr Mason in charge equates to 1 penalty awarded against us every 1,110 minutes. With Mr Mason in charge, 1 penalty is awarded against us every 135 minutes – so we are almost 10 times as likely to concede a penalty with Mr Mason in charge than we are when anybody else is refereeing. Whilst he has awarded 2 penalties against us in 3 games, for instance, Howard Webb has not awarded any against us in 4 matches he has taken charge of, Martin Atkinson has not awarded any against us in the 4 matches he has taken charge of, and Phil Dowd - who has awarded more penalties (according to Opta) this year in the league than any other referee - has awarded only one despite refereeing us on 6 occasions.
Of course, you can do a lot with statistics, and the stats don’t tell you that we happened to play poorly in each of the three games Mr Mason refereed. Statistics don’t tell you whether someone was actually tripped in the penalty area or not. There is no automatic correlation between the number of fouls in a game and the number of cards shown - some fouls are far worse than others.
But statistics can and do portray trends and the trends are frankly worrying. Mr Mason has refereed something like 30 matches this season (including cup games) so there is enough raw material for the average of 8.3 fouls for each card shown to be meaningful, and there is enough of a discrepancy between that average and the number of cards shown to teams playing City for that to be statistically significant. There is enough of a discrepancy between the penalties he awards against City and the number of penalties other referees award to be statistically significant. The fact that he is 10 times more likely to award a penalty against City raises questions even if that just happens to be a statistical quirk. Then there is the fact that three of last year’s top 4 sides have won every game this season which Mr Mason has refereed, scoring 16 goals between them whilst conceding only 4, whereas City have yet to score with him in charge.
Thjere are, of course, 'lies, damn lies and statistics.' But in relation to the all these issues, the scale of the discrepancies between how City perform when Mr Mason is in charge, and
(i) how they do when he isn’t in charge, and
(ii) how the teams around us do when he is in charge
indicates that the results may well be more than just statistical quirks produced by us playing badly on those occasions when he happened to be in charge.
By the same yardstick, some thought it was no surprise that away at Everton with Peter Walton in charge we played badly, didn’t get a lot of decisions and ended up losing 1-0. We have too much history with Mr Walton, especially when he is refereeing Everton/City games.
We have looked really good in the last couple of games, but despite the thrashings we have handed out to WBA and Norwich, I have a bad feeling about Sunday, and Mr Mason is the reason for it.