Offside decisions will always be open to controversy because they are based on not only the fact of a player standing in an offside position but the hypothesis of what he has to gain by being there. For a long time match officials ducked the issue by pulling an attacker up even if he was picking his nose far away from the action but now the pendulum has swung so far the other way that a player is safe unless he actually touches the ball.
Goals are being allowed when two or three members of the attacking side have run past the last defender and must be distracting the goalkeeper's attention but this is no longer deemed to be interfering with play. Only if one of them follows up to find the net from a rebound will the goal be disallowed.
On Saturday Fulham lost their unbeaten Premier League record to a goal which would never have stood under the old system of interpretation. Having taken the lead on the half-hour following a clever piece of play by Clint Dempsey, who held off two Tottenham defenders before squaring the ball across goal to leave Diomansy Kamara with a simple tap-in, Fulham were back level within a minute after Rafael van der Vaart's chip against the crossbar had left Roman Pavlyuchenko with an equally straightforward chance. No arguments there but what followed just past the hour had Craven Cottage beside itself with frustration.
Following a Spurs corner the ball found its way to Tom Huddlestone, whose low shot from 25 yards skidded through a crowd of players and beat Mark Schwarzer into the left-hand corner of the net. Up went a linesman's flag against William Gallas, who had been a fraction offside when the ball was struck. The referee, Mike Dean, looked like disallowing the goal but amid Tottenham protests went over to consult his assistant, Martin Yerby, before letting it stand, the two officials having agreed that, while Gallas had been near the ball, there had not been any contact. The Fulham crowd loudly informed Dean that he did not know what he was doing. In fact he knew exactly what he was about and under the present circumstances had made the correct call.
Not that this spared him a finger-wagging from the Fulham manager, Mark Hughes, at the end of the match. "The goal should have been wiped out because Gallas is in an offside position as the ball is struck by Huddlestone," said Hughes. "The only grey area is whether it hit one of our players [Chris Baird] on the way through. Maybe then the argument is that he's played him on."
Of course that should not make any difference since the decision depends on where the attacker is when the ball is played by a team-mate and who touches it thereafter is irrelevant. Hughes was on firmer ground when he looked it at from his goalkeeper's point of view.
"Mark Schwarzer has to hold his position until the ball actually reaches where Gallas is," he said, "because he is thinking that at some point Gallas may stick out a toe and deflect it. To say he is not interfering and not in the goalkeeper's eyeline is completely at odds with the truth." This is a fair point. If goalkeepers are expected to second-guess opponents who are offside anyway, then the law is becoming an ass.
Naturally Fulham felt hard done by although Tottenham, whose carefully controlled performance plainly had Wednesday's Champions League game against Internazionale in mind, always looked as if they could step up a gear if necessary. Huddlestone was the industrious heart of their game and once Harry Redknapp had brought on Aaron Lennon to give Spurs added width on the right, moving Luka Modric towards the centre, a Fulham midfield deprived of Danny Murphy by a groin strain early in the second half, struggled to keep possession.
Man of the match Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham Hotspur)
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.