In the wake of Aberdeen’s 6-0 loss at Celtic, the spotlight has been on the head-to-head collision between Slobodan Rubezic and Kyogo Furuhashi – and whether referee Willie Collum and VAR handled the incident correctly.
Recently-capped Montenegro international Rubezic has certainly fit the “no-nonsense defender” description for Aberdeen when it has come to tackling and heading the ball since he signed in the summer.
Rubezic isn’t afraid to put himself about and put his body on the line.
Early in the second period at Celtic Park, he was involved in a nasty collision with Japanese international Kyogo.
Rubezic moved to head the ball, which was at head height, near the halfway line, as the Hoops forward made his own move towards the ball – and in front of the Reds player.
While it was not obvious straight away who had reached the ball first, it was immediately clear the Dons player’s forehead had hit the back of Kyogo’s head and the home player looked like he had been knocked out cold.
Ref Collum quickly blew for the physios to come on, with players from both sides also hastening the medical teams on to the field of play.
Players’ safety should always be the number one concern for a referee, and he has the responsibility to ensure the players are treated in a timely manner, especially when it comes to head knocks.
However, due to the rush to get the medical staff on, it wasn’t clear what Collum’s on-field decision regarding the incident was.
There were obviously some question marks for the officials, with a VAR check carried out to see whether or not the incident could be a potential red card for Dons defender Rubezic.
However, Collum was not sent to the monitor to review the collision – and Rubezic was eventually cautioned by the referee before play continued.
In my opinion, despite some suggestions it should have been after the game, it was absolutely not a red card offence from Rubezic. It was two players challenging for the ball.
It led to a sickening head knock, yes. But, for me, both players were committed to trying to win possession, and it was just an unfortunate situation which came from that.
At the same time, in the modern game, with the climate around head injuries, I understand why referee felt compelled to show Rubezic a yellow card – due to the speed he comes in at, and because he comes steaming through the back of his man.
However, again, when you have players fully committed during a game of football, these collisions can happen.
I think a yellow card was an acceptable outcome, on balance.
As soon as Collum gave goal-kick, I suspected VAR review and penalty against MacKenzie had to be coming
Celtic would then have a penalty shout for handball against Aberdeen’s Nicky Devlin.
The former Livingston captain would play the ball off Luis Palma, before the ball bounced back and hit his arm.
It would’ve been extremely harsh, and the ball actually appears to come off the arm of Palma first, so the referee’s call of no penalty was spot on.
Collum did, however, later award a penalty to the home team following a VAR review.
Jack MacKenzie was deemed to have fouled South Korean striker Oh – despite the referee initially awarding a goal-kick.
It was one of those tackles where it’s either an excellent block, or a foul, which was why I was bemused a goal-kick had been awarded.
As soon as a goal-kick was given, I knew the situation was shaping up for a penalty to be awarded.
I suspect referee Collum clearly saw the contact, and that MacKenzie didn’t win the ball, but knew VAR would allow him to review the situation again and reach the correct decision.
For me, it was a clear penalty. It was a clumsy challenge from Aberdeen player MacKenzie – and part of a dreadful performance from the Dons.
Not the way the Reds would have wanted to head into the international break.
Finlay Elder was a registered referee for six years and a category 5 official from 2019, with experience in the Highland League, Juniors and Club Academy.