Referees need to set tone for new Scottish Premiership season

Referee Craig Thomson (far right) looks on as Thistle and United players scuffle

Was top-rated referee Craig Thomson suffering from first-night nerves? Maybe an attempt to stay under the radar at the start of the new Scottish Premiership season?

Or did he simply have a shocker? We've all had them at one time or another. And one of our best-known football officials got it so badly wrong at Firhill on Friday, turning a blind eye to not just one red card offence, but two.

He has instantly become Dundee United defender Callum Butcher's favourite official because the former Tottenham trainee's competitive debut should have ended with a sending-off.

I have no wish to see any player red-carded. Cutting the numbers can kill the game. But there are rights and wrongs that can't be ignored.

The Premiership's other Butcher, Inverness gaffer Terry, might have got away with that dangerous brand of tackling in his playing heyday but it's clearly outlawed by the current rulebook.

The 22-year-old United centre-back looks like a great signing for manager Jackie McNamara but he'll spend more time off the pitch than on it if he can't turn his aggression into the controlled variety.

First, Butcher flew into an ill-judged midfield challenge on Partick Thistle new boy Gary Fraser which sparked a midfield melee.

Reckless. Dangerous. Out of control. It ticked all the boxes for a dismissal.

Thomson opted to book both players.

Butcher's second wild lunge, this time in the direction of Stuart Bannigan, was even worse. And it was inside the box. Penalty and red card? Neither.

Thistle didn't make a big fuss about the decisions but they could have made the difference between a Premiership point and all three on their return to the top tier.

Thomson has refereed in the Champions League and is highly regarded but he must be cringing about his performance at Firhill.

I would imagine his employers at the Scottish FA were not too impressed either.

There was nothing borderline about the Butcher tackles. And, having got away with one red card, he certainly shouldn't have escaped a second time.

Rather than a night to forget, it is perhaps one for Thomson and his colleagues to remember as we launch ourselves into another ten-month season.

Let's not have referees dominating the post-weekend football conversation. I'd rather be talking about the quality of St Johnstone's play at home and abroad or how well Inverness have started the season.

But everyone needs to be performing on a level playing field where the performance of the man in the middle doesn't have a significant impact on the outcome of the match.

What we all want, I think, is consistency and clarity in football decision-making that makes it obvious what is and isn't allowed on the pitch. Then we can just get on with the game.

It's not been a great reffing start, has it?