'I imagine Leeds United will appeal' - Pascal Struijk red for tackle on Liverpool's Harvey Elliott splits opinion of ex Premier League refs

Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk's red card for his challenge on Liverpool's Harvey Elliott has split the opinion of two former Premier League referees.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 4:48 am
SHOCKING SCENE - Medical staff from both Leeds United and Liverpool sprung into action to care for Harvey Elliott who was injured after a Pascal Struijk challenge. Pic: Tony Johnson
SHOCKING SCENE - Medical staff from both Leeds United and Liverpool sprung into action to care for Harvey Elliott who was injured after a Pascal Struijk challenge. Pic: Tony Johnson

As with all such incidents, debate has raged over this decision and with good reason, given its subjective nature.

The only thing that can be completely agreed on, by all parties, is that the injury suffered by the 18-year-old was horrific and desperately unfortunate. Struijk stripped him of the ball but the Leeds man's trailing leg appeared to trap and dislocate Elliott's ankle, tragically but accidentally derailing an exciting season for an exciting player.

To be playing in any Premier League team at 18 is impressive but to do so in this Liverpool team and play as well as Elliott did against Leeds is incredible.

The teen's conduct since the incident has also impressed. On the stretcher he had the presence of mind to clap the Leeds supporters for applauding him, thanked them again later and then absolved Struijk of any blame. It was an accident and not, he said, a red card.

Given some of the reaction, with emotional understandably running high after a grotesque injury, Elliott was a calming influence and took some undeserved heat off Struijk. If there was any hysteria, it did not come from the injured party.

Struijk, left visibly distraught, is an unassuming and shy character. To be involved in this and become the centre of the ensuing attention and anger, will have been mortifying.

His team-mate Junior Firpo deserved credit for rushing to console Elliott in the immediate aftermath and the medical staff of both clubs showed just how well drilled they are, springing instantly into action to work together for the stricken youngster.

It was a difficult to watch and, according to former referees' chief Keith Hackett, a difficult situation to officiate. He felt Pawson's initial response was good.

"Ultimately the first thing you do is make sure the medics are on, you don't worry about everything else," said Hackett on his Seen Them Given podcast.

"The player's health is at the forefront. Pawson remained calm. I thought he handled it as well as Anthony Taylor did in the Euros when Christian Eriksen collapsed. He showed sympathy."

Pawson did not award a free-kick for the tackle so play went on, before it quickly became apparent how bad the injury was. As medics attended Elliott, Pawson spent time in conversation with Jurgen Klopp, who entered the pitch. The Liverpool boss later declined to reveal what he said to the referee.

Once Pawson had ushered the Liverpool manager back to the touchline, he approached Struijk to show a red.

The YEP understands Pawson's team, including fourth official Andy Madley who was closest to the incident, helped the referee come to that decision based on the intensity of the challenge. VAR looked at the footage and decided there was no obvious error to correct.

Hackett wondered what was said between Klopp and the referee, but took no issue with the German's reaction and could understand the sending off.

"It's his player, they're part of the family," he said.

"I think he was shocked. He didn't overreact, he was seeking guidance and we don't know the exchange of words.

"A challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent with excessive force is a red card challenge. Probably reluctantly, Craig was in a very difficult position and the outcome was a red card. I sympathise with him.

"There's no doubt the player making the challenge was moving at pace, the challenge endangered the safety of an opponent - that's very clear because of the outcome. I think Craig had no alternative."

Another former Premier League referee, Mark Halsey takes a different view on Klopp's action and the red card.

"When I saw the challenge it looked a fair one," he said.

"Craig Pawson thinks the same thing, he's in a good position and he doesn't give a free-kick so I was surprised to see a red card.

"The disappointing thing for me is why is Jurgen Klopp coming onto the pitch to confront the referee? He said nothing important, according to his interview, well we can all read into that but I don't think he should have entered the field of play.

"Andy Madley, standing next to Klopp, can see the injury and I think they've gone on the injury. You can't blame officials for doing that, they think perhaps something more untoward has gone on, you wouldn't criticise them in those circumstances."

Where Halsey is critical is in the interpretation of the law and the idea that the severity of an injury should decide a sanction.

He told the YEP: "Was he out of control of his actions, did he use excessive force with brutality? You have to say no. Obviously it was a nasty injury but he's gone in, got the ball and his leg has gone onto Elliott's ankle and dislocated it.

"You can understand perhaps the officials sending him off on the injury [but] VAR should check that and the outcome shouldn't be determined by the injury but by the law.

"They need to look at the challenge. Should we be sending off players because of the outcome of the injury? You can't go down that road. It's a contact sport and accidents do happen."

Although Leeds are yet to confirm if they will appeal, Halsey's fellow former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg wrote in the Daily Mail that they are likely to and they 'may well win.'

"Leeds have to prove it was a challenge that didn't warrant a red card," said Halsey.

"It all depends who is sitting on the three-man panel. You have an ex referee and two other persons. It depends how they view it. I would imagine Leeds would appeal."

Ultimately Struijk will play again soon enough and sadly Elliott will not for some time, but a challenge this subjective is worth debating. It's probably worth appealing, too.