Snow White had seven dwarfs, but not a single one of them dived to win a penalty while on a booking.
Sleeping Beauty was awoken by a kiss from Prince Charming, not a dubious last-minute penalty from a rather expensive striker and regular substitute.
The stepmother in Cinderella was a nasty piece of work, but there was no terrible refereeing performance, one bordering on gross negligence at a time of utmost importance.
This, as we already know, is no ordinary ‘fairytale’ over at Leicester City. Jon Moss decided to cast himself as the primary antagonist on Sunday afternoon.
The art of ‘evening out’ refereeing decisions is a delicate one to truly master. After a call goes against them during a game, managers, players and clubs are all consoled with the fact that ‘they even themselves out’ over the course of a season. At the King Power Stadium, Moss ensured it would happen in the space of 90 minutes.
At one stage, it looked as if the Leicester ‘fairytale’ was repeating the same chapter it had for the past few weeks. The Foxes took a one-goal lead on the counter-attack against an opponent which could not resist committing players forward. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth then directed the resolute defence of said advantage. Kasper Schmeichel’s goal had already looked to be living a charmed life after Cheikhou Kouyate’s early header rebounded off both posts and settled softly into the Dane’s arms.
Jamie Vardy’s role in this Leicester story has been one of mixed connotations: ‘The racist hero’, ‘the nasty inspiration’. ‘The diving goalscorer’ was added to that list on Sunday. After 56 minutes, the striker charged into the penalty area under pressure, before tumbling to the ground. Moss blew his whistle, and the stadium expected a subsequent point to the penalty spot. But Vardy had forced the contact between his and Angelo Ogbonna’s legs, before theatrically throwing himself to the floor. Moss showed a second yellow for simulation, and rightfully so. As Huw Davies wrote on Twitter (with added asterisks): ‘Vardy: ridiculous dive, second yellow card, then calls the referee a “f***ing c***’ while jabbing his finger in his face. Fairytale.’
Yet Leicester still led. Aggrieved at the decision to send Vardy off, the defence was more resolute, more dominant, more physical. Eventually, it would cost them.
Tussling at corners is not a new phenomenon in football. At every set-piece, players grab shirts, pull limbs, block runs, push opponents. On rare occasions, referees decide that they have seen enough. On 84 minutes and with Leicester heading towards a ten-point lead at the top of the Premier League, Moss ripped up the script and wrote a completely new one.
Debate will rage on into the week over the decision to award a penalty against Morgan for his push on Winston Reid. But the following point stands: Was this instance any different to numerous others throughout the match involving Huth man-handling an opponent at a corner, or Ogbonna doing the exact same with the roles reversed? Moss merely exemplified his incapability to control a match at that very moment.
Within two minutes, West Ham had taken the lead. Andy Carroll converted the penalty, then Aaron Cresswell handed them the lead. Not since Leicester’s last defeat had their fortunes so visibly changed in one instant. They led through a Jamie Vardy goal in that 2-1 loss to Arsenal in February, which turned in the Gunners’ favour following a red card.
Moss’ incompetence will ensure that Claudio Ranieri earns few plaudits for his game management in this draw. The Italian brought Jeffrey Schlupp on just before Vardy’s dismissal, with Leonardo Ulloa introduced moments afterwards. Both combined to rescue a point for the Foxes, as the striker brushed the weight of expectation off his shoulders by firing home from 12 yards in the final minute. In his attempt to ‘even out’ his previous decision, Moss granted Leicester a penalty for a foul on Schlupp. ‘Soft’ does not quite cover it.
And yet Leicester’s battling spirit will be overshadowed by Moss’ determination to be the centre of attention – not that Ranieri or the leaders will be concerned. Ulloa not only rescued a point on Sunday, but he salvaged a precious momentum which threatened to leave the King Power Stadium for the first time in months.