In last week’s column I made the point about the success or failure of formations being down to how well they are executed, and Monday’s landmark victory at White Hart Lane provided a perfect example.

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Both sides played 4-4-2, but City’s superiority, as Harry Redknapp acknowledged after the game, was due to the fact that City’s players were more prepared to track back than his.

Once again, City’s work ethic, married to self-belief and skill, produced another unforgettable afternoon which would, in any normal week, be the only subject to discuss.

However, last weekend was far from normal.

There are many good things about being in the Premier League, but one of the things that has genuinely disappointed me has been the performances of the so-called Select Group of referees. While that self-important name suggests excellence, we have all too often seen glaring incompetence and inconsistency.

I’m not going to suggest that refereeing football matches isn’t a difficult job, and it’s not one I’d relish, but with professional officials I think we have a right to expect better than the shocking errors that afflicted the Premier League last weekend.

Wigan and QPR probably have the most right to be aggrieved, particularly the latter. However, City also had reason to be upset on Saturday after Andre Marriner’s bizarre performance, although Michael Oliver, the living embodiment of the phrase “don’t send a boy to do a man’s job”, managed to cap that at White Hart Lane on Monday, missing two blatant penalties.

Everyone makes mistakes and referees are only human, yet these mistakes can affect livelihoods and potentially cost clubs huge amounts of money.

Despite that, referees are almost a protected species. Everyone watching Manchester United’s game against QPR will have seen Ashley Young’s shameless dive to win a penalty and, by extension, get Shaun Derry sent off. Yet on Tuesday the FA rejected QPR’s claim to have the red card rescinded.

I’m no lover of QPR, but that is blatantly wrong, and what’s worse is that Young has got away with blatant cheating, while Lee Mason has effectively received official endorsement for a correct decision when he clearly made a massive error and virtually gifted United three points.

What’s worse, the FA’s failure to take the opportunity to punish Young will simply encourage more of the same sort of cynical behaviour, which in turn will result in more referees being fooled, and more travesties of justice.

Last week I heard Greg Downs calling for ex-players to be fast tracked as referees and there is some merit in that, although with playing careers getting longer it may prove impractical, given that Premier League referees retire at 48.

However, it works well in cricket where virtually every first class umpire is an ex-pro. There is a lot to be said for being streetwise, but there is more that can be done now to help officials.

The game is currently hidebound by a form of Luddism, which holds back the use of technology that could solve many of these problems at a stroke, whereas other major sports embrace it.

In addition it refuses to make officials explain their actions, while the authorities ruthlessly punish managers or players who dare to criticise them when a microphone is stuck under their nose straight after a game.

The Respect campaign is all well and good, but respect can only be earned, not imposed.

If officials are allowed to continue to make obvious, game changing errors with impunity, and cheats are allowed to prosper, the situation will get worse, not better. There has to be accountability for all, including officials. But most of all, the FA needs to stop pretending that all is well when it clearly isn’t.


Previous columns by Robin Sainty