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O'Neill seeks clarification over handball rule
MARTIN O'Neill has called for clarification of football's controversial deliberate handball rule after Sunderland were denied a potential late penalty in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Fulham.
Philippe Senderos appeared to handle the ball in area as it rebounded off Brede Hangeland in the closing stages of the game, but referee Mark Halsey waved away appeals for a spot-kick.
Last weekend, Sunderland's Craig Gardner and West Brom's Gareth McAuley were both penalised for handball, and O'Neill sees no difference between their offences and the one he feels was committed by Senderos.
FIFA's rules state that a penalty should only be awarded if the handball is deemed to be deliberate, but the body that changes footballing law, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), issued a guideline at the start of the season to help referees and managers understand their preferred interpretation of the offence.
The IFAB guideline asks officials to consider the proximity of the potential offender to the ball, the speed of the ball and whether the offender's arms are in a 'natural' or 'unnatural' position.
The last consideration is regarded as crucial to the final decision, but O'Neill feels its introduction has led to far too much inconsistency.
“When the referee came in to speak to us about it (at the start of the season), it all seemed reasonably clear,” said the Sunderland boss. “We had a meeting and he showed us some examples. I thought that made it reasonably clear for us.
“Whether we thought those things were penalties ten or 15 years ago is not the issue. I spoke to the referee (Halsey) after the game and he thinks there are a lot of soft penalties. I'm not disagreeing with that in general, but it's not the point.”
Television replays suggest that Senderos' arm could have been deemed to be in an 'unnatural' position when it made contact with the ball at the weekend, as it was swinging behind him as he tumbled towards the floor.
It was certainly no more 'natural' than Gardner's movement at the Hawthorns, and having grudgingly accepted the award of a spot-kick on that occasion, O'Neill cannot understand why Halsey shied away from pointing to the spot on Saturday.
“If these are the rules now, and the directives we have to adhere to, then that was a penalty,” he said. “That's the frustration, and what happened last week just adds to the frustration because there were two similar incidents. Craig's was a handball and so was McAuley's.
“I think referees should be reasonably clear about what is and isn't a handball. Maybe they are and it just hasn't been passed on to me yet.
“I spoke to Mark, and to be fair he allowed me in. I've seen it twice – in slow-motion and real time – and I think it's clear cut. He didn't think it was a deliberate handball, but given the rules that he was part of, it's a penalty.”