Rodwell red card ruins Merseyside derby
Good gamblers know a sure thing when they see one - which explains an unusual scene in the Goodison Park press box in the moments before kick-off in the Merseyside derby.
A well-known sporting figure, not involved in football it should be stressed for the conspiracy theorists, noted that Martin Atkinson was taking charge of the 216th meeting of Everton and Liverpool and commandeered a laptop to have a little last-minute flutter on the likelihood of a sending off.
This was a fixture with a history of red cards presided over by a referee with a habit of awarding them. And the money was on its way to the bank after only 23 minutes when Jack Rodwell was sent off in the defining moment of this derby.
Rodwell was the 12th player to be sent off in the last 16 Merseyside derbies and the 15th player to be dismissed by Atkinson since the start of last season - but simple statistics do not do justice, or in this case injustice, to the incident.
In preparing to criticise Atkinson for a poor, game-changing decision, one must make the usual proviso that not many would seriously want to take the sort of action that sees them villified for 67 minutes of a sunny Saturday afternoon by in excess of 30,000 people.
I, for one, might even accept nailing my hand to a bedside cabinet as a preferable option to taking charge of a Premier League football match with all the responsibilities and pitfalls this entails. It is not a job I would take, a decision confirmed by watching and hearing Atkinson walk off at half-time and full-time, security official at his side, with deafening abuse ringing in his ears.
Atkinson, however, has chosen to accept this responsibility - and in doing so must accept the criticism that came his way after sending Rodwell off for what, to almost every pair of eyes except his own, looked to be a perfectly legitimate tackle on Luis Suarez.
Rodwell's red card was the first of his career
Was he swayed by Suarez's tumble and prostrate position after the tackle? Was he persuaded by the swift appearance of Lucas demanding punishment for Rodwell? Did he feel there was malicious intent on Rodwell's part aside from a simple desire to win the ball? All may be mitigating factors.
Atkinson should only have been persuaded by Rodwell's clean sweep of the ball away with a single foot that actually put this in the realms of a good, clean tackle rather than a red card offence.
It was the moment a competitive, entertaining, evenly contested Merseyside derby ceased to be all those things.
As always in these contentious moments, the debate turned to the introduction of video technology - but surely this should only be for line decisions? It has to be hoped open and shut cases such as this are called correctly by the referee standing just yards away.
"The decision changed the game," said Match Of The Day pundit Lee Dixon.
"If this is a red card we should all pack up and go home because it's going to become a non-contact sport.
"Rodwell went for the ball and got there before Suarez. His foot wasn't high but there was a little contact.
"Different referees are going to have different interpretations of the laws, that's just human nature, but when the same referee has different interpretations, that's inconsistency.
"Tony Hibbert's challenge on Charlie Adam was worse and the ref didn't even give a free-kick so you can understand why players and managers get frustrated."
While Alan Shearer commented: "There is no way that's a red card. No way. I'm lost for words. I can't for the life of me see how that's a red card."
Everton mounted a 10-man rearguard action, even escaping a penalty when Tim Howard saved superbly from Dirk Kuyt - but there was an inevitability about the two goals in the last 20 minutes from Andy Carroll and Suarez that had lingered in the air from the moment the unfortunate Rodwell made a very reluctant exit.
Rodwell, whose promise has stalled in the last 18 months, has been required to inject extra steel into his game in an attempt to make him a more complete package. So it was ironic that he suffered for a legitimate attempt to do so.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish recently held talks with Mike Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials, after complaining that his club was being "battered" by refereeing decisions.
He could have no complaints here. It was Everton who took the hit when Rodwell walked, although as he rightly pointed out Liverpool still had to complete the job and did it in comfort once Carroll, who hinted at his potential threat in the second half, made the breakthrough.
Everton boss David Moyes, who questioned Atkinson's appointment for this particular game, also noted that it was the first time he had officiated one of his matches since he picked up a fine for confronting him at the frantic conclusion of a draw with Manchester United at Goodison Park at this stage last season.
And, visibly downcast he said: "I just thought the sending off ruined the game. You get lots of questions from people asking about derbies, tackles and sendings off but that wasn't even a bad tackle.
"I don't even know if we can appeal. I would have been disappointed had it been a free-kick and if he had got a yellow card I think people would have asked 'what's that for?'"
Suarez, who certainly carries an element of mischief to go with his brilliance, was cast just underneath Atkinson as the villain of the piece and was subjected to some very poor behaviour from Everton fans when they threw objects in his direction when he went to take a late corner.
The Uruguayan was still the most menacing attacking presence on the pitch and his importance to Liverpool's hopes of making the top four this season cannot be underestimated. He might make enemies with that touch of devil in his make-up, but not at Anfield.
Also pivotal to the outcome was the respective strength of the squad. With Everton inevitably tiring, Liverpool were able to introduce Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy for the disappointing Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam.
These are riches beyond the reach of Moyes on his budget and that extra quality showed in the closing stages.
Moyes, legitimately, pointed out the financial disparity between Liverpool, who have spent more than £100m since January, and Everton, without a transfer pot to their name, in the build-up to this derby.
He accepted that fact as the harsh reality of the modern game - what he found harder to take was the injustice he was convinced was inflicted on Everton when Atkinson chose to send off Rodwell.