Man City v Chelsea: Alex Greenwood sees second yellow card for time-wastingThe 26 seconds that Alex Greenwood used up before taking a free-kick for Manchester City proved more costly than expected in their 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
Referee Emily Heaslip’s decision to punish Greenwood for time-wasting, producing a second yellow card and sending off the England defender in the 38th minute, came out of the blue and stunned those inside Joie Stadium.
Ex-England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis described it as a “ridiculous” decision, while former Lioness Fara Williams said it was “shocking”.
There were loud boos in the stands from City supporters and chants directed at Heaslip, while three of Greenwood’s team-mates – Laia Aleixandri, Chloe Kelly and Jill Roord – were cautioned for dissent as they contested the decision.
Match report: Manchester City 1-1 ChelseaThey were among the 11 yellow cards shown, including one to City manager Gareth Taylor. Two of those were second bookings as City forward Lauren Hemp was also dismissed for a foul on Lauren James in the 81st minute.
For those who did not watch the game, you would have been forgiven for thinking the hosts had been overly aggressive as they became only the second team to have two players sent off in one WSL match, joining Bristol City in 2012.
However, that was not the case.
Chelsea made more fouls (10) than City’s four, but WSL officials are clamping down on time-wasting and appeals from players this season – and this was a demonstration of the impact those drastic changes could have.
It followed contentious decisions on the opening weekend when City’s Leila Ouahabi was sent off for kicking out at West Ham’s Emma Harries, while Aston Villa’s Kirsty Hanson got a red card for a high boot on Manchester United’s Hayley Ladd.
“Three red cards in two games is going to send a message suggesting to anyone that hasn’t watched us play, that we’re a dirty team,” said City boss Taylor.
“But I think anyone who has watched us in the last two games would never say that. We are a good, young team that maintain possession of the ball really well, are exciting to watch and we would like to keep 11 players on the pitch!
“If there is consistency, then in most of the games [this season] we will see a lot of that – where there is yellow cards and red cards.”
Greenwood decision ‘ruins the game’Referee Emily Heaslip officiated the Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley last yearWhile players and staff in the WSL were made aware of the plan to crack down on certain aspects of the game this season, Taylor is intrigued to see whether it will be implemented across the board.
“Let’s see the challenges and the communication between some players and the officials,” he added. “Let’s see. That’s all we want – consistency.
“You don’t want consistency in bad decisions, of course not. Everyone makes mistakes – players, managers and referees.
“We’re going to have to change a lot of things. That game was pretty subdued. I think you’ll have a lot of coaches sat in my position saying the same things.”
Experienced referee Heaslip, who officiated the Women’s FA Cup final last season, was booed heavily by City supporters who also teased her as they counted out aloud the seconds that passed with free-kicks in the second half.
City were leading 1-0 through Kelly’s opener, but were denied victory as Guro Reiten scrambled an equaliser after six of 13 stoppage-time minutes were played at the end of the match.
“Of course the [Greenwood] sending off alters the game because it’s 11 v 10,” said Chelsea boss Emma Hayes afterwards.
WSL highlights: Chelsea draw with nine-player Man CityPunishing time-wasting in the WSL is at the discretion of the referee but several former players did not agree with Heaslip’s decision.
“It is a shocking decision,” said Williams. “It is never a red card. When Greenwood puts the ball down, she looks for the best option.
“To go long would be a 50-50 [choice] in terms of retaining possession, so she stalls and tries to manage the situation. The common-sense option would be to give her a warning.
“What you then see is several yellow cards come for City players out of pure frustration. It ruins the game. It hasn’t even been a game with challenges that have been worth yellow cards.”
Brown-Finnis added: “She wasn’t even trying to waste time, she stalls so her team-mates can have time to get up the pitch. It was a matter of seconds! A very poor decision from the referee in my opinion.”
Former Manchester City striker Ellen White questioned why Heaslip did not appear to tell Greenwood to hurry up and agreed the decision “changed the game”.
‘It will be an eight-a-side league’Taylor admitted his players will need to “learn quickly” if they are to avoid further punishments this season.
They will already be without Greenwood, Hemp and Ouahabi through suspension for their next WSL match at home to Bristol City.
“When you make drastic changes like this it can be quite difficult and, at the moment, you are saying a lot of those types of [offences] will be yellow cards,” said Taylor.
“But it was 11 yellow cards and two red cards [in total] and it was not a malicious game at all.
“I’m all about respect. It’s such a hard job for the officials, especially when you have players coming at you and maybe staff. But let’s move it a little bit slower because, if not, it will be an eight-a-side league unfortunately – if they are consistent.”
The changes have not gone down well so far as former England striker Ian Wright described Greenwood’s dismissal as “embarrassing” and said it showed a lack of common sense.
Arsenal striker Beth Mead posted on X: “Awful decision, never time-wasting.”
And former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney added: “Possibly the most ridiculous red card I’ve ever seen. How to ruin a game in the WSL. Absolute joke!!!!!”