Manchester City Undone In Stoppage Time

21 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   September 21, 2009  |     11

During the Cold War, government advice was that, in the event of a nuclear strike, we should stay in our inner refuges for forty-eight hours and indoors for around ten to fourteen days, in order to allow radiation levels outside to drop to something approaching a “safe” level. It felt today as if we should still be in our inner sanctums as the fallout from yesterday’s Manchester derby match fell around outside, infusing everything with the Premier League’s favourite luminous green toxin, controversy.

Much of this controversy surrounded United’s winning goal, scored five and a half minutes into stoppage time at Old Trafford by Michael Owen and much of the complaining about this seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the rules of the game. Shortly before Craig Bellamy scored for Manchester City – and as the clock ticked over the ninety minute mark – the fourth official held up a board confirming that there would be a minimum of four minutes added for stoppages. In that time, City scored and there was also a substitution which meant that, by the fifth minute over the allotted ninety, they were playing stoppage time for stoppages in stoppage time, as it were.

Bearing this in mind, there was probably nothing wrong with Owen’s goal. The key to unlocking the mystery of why the two teams were still playing in the sixth minute of stoppage time is in the phrasing. The sign held up by the fourth official at the end of the match refers to the minimum amount of time that the referee should add. The decision on how long exactly to add is left to the referee’s discretion. If he felt that the City goal celebrations were worth adding a minute for and the substitution was worth adding an extra thirty seconds for (which is most likely what happened), then they were still inside what could be defined as a reasonable definition of “stoppage time”. The FIFA guidelines on this definition are deliberately fuzzy, so as to allow referees the utmost discretion on how much time to allow. Here is what they have to say on the matter in their “Laws Of The Game 2009/10″ publication:

Allowance is made in either period for all time lost through:

•  Substitutions
•  Assessment of injury to players
•  Removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment
•  Wasting time
•  Any other cause

The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.

The perception that the two teams would be kept playing until Manchester United scored is, of course, nonsense and has to be treated as such until evidence beyond Manchester United scoring goals in stoppage time is unearthed. The notion that referees are biased towards Manchester United at Old Trafford has its origins in Steve Bruce’s late, late goal against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, a goal that came after four minutes of stoppage time and is often credited with being one of the defining moments of their first title win since 1967. The truth of the matter is that, rather than getting it wrong on this occasion, officials may even get it wrong most of the rest of the time. How many times do referees blow for full time at exactly the point that the time indicated by the fourth official has elapsed? On a balance of probability (especially when taking into account the likelihood that one team will be trying to run the clock down), too many.

There has been some talk of changing the way that time added on is calculated at the end of the match, with some advocating a minimum period of time followed by the whistle blowing as soon as the ball is considered out of play, as happens in rugby. It’s difficult to see how this would be workable in football, since the ball spends such a high proportion of the match effectively “out of play” anyway. The most likely scenario if such a rule were to be adopted would be at best that the ball would be lumped out of the ground as soon as the stipulated time was up and at worst that players would use even less moral methods than that to make the ball inactive after this point.

Depending on how sympathetic you are feeling towards them, City could stand accused of one of two miscalculations. On the one hand, we could argue that Mark Hughes – who, unsurprisingly, complained long and hard about the amount of stoppage time added – miscalculated if he believed that exactly four minutes only would be added to the ninety. If we are more generous, however, we could argue that City were guilty of following the convention of adding only the time that had been indicated by the officials. What we know for certain is that, even in the immediate build-up to the goal, City had four or five chances to gain and keep possession of the ball and failed to do so. It was this more than an extra ninety seconds that cost them a point at Old Trafford yesterday.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • September 22, 2009 at 3:13 am


    Or, we could argue that citeh were played off the pitch in the second half and are just bitter.

  • September 22, 2009 at 9:25 am


    It shows that football players and managers are either a)stupid, b)ignorant of the laws of the game or 3) trying to pull a fast one.

    Most of the time I would say all three.

  • September 22, 2009 at 11:04 am


    And, of course, the referee added on time for Owen et al’s celebration (and a few seconds to get Gary Neville back on Planet Earth), making a total of six and a half minutes stoppage time.

    I was convinced by all the arguments above – article and comments both -until Graham Poll said Martin Atkinson was right. So now I’m not so sure…

  • September 22, 2009 at 11:20 am


    This is such a non argument I can’t believe ho much attention is given to this. Play to the whistle simple. You learn that from day one. Why should Mann City or any other club be any different?

    I look forward to the day when Mark Hughes asks the referee to chalk off a last minute winner as it was scored in the 93rd minute when only 2 extra minutes were publicised by the forth official. It’s never going to happen because all the people at the top are bent by money and pressure.

  • September 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm


    “The perception that the two teams would be kept playing until Manchester United scored is, of course, nonsense and has to be treated as such until evidence beyond Manchester United scoring goals in stoppage time is unearthed. ”

    Like the evidence from the OPTA stats, published in the Guardian today, showing that last season Manchester United got over a minute extra injury time at Old Trafford last season when they were losing/drawing as compared to when they were winning (and indeed have done for every season since 2006-07)? That kind of hard, indisputable evidence?

    I think to argue that there is a widespread collusion between referees and Manchester United to deliver the trophy to Old Trafford every year, as some claim, would indeed be a paranoid delusion. However there is also too substantial a body of evidence accumulated over the years for the notion that referees favour Man U at Old Trafford to be dismissed. Think of the overlooked (for opponents) or ridiculously soft (for Man U) penalties, extra injury time, and then just the blatantly, bizarrely wrong decisions (Pedro Mendes). The examples are countless.

    The truth is most likely that referees are sufficiently in awe of Sir Alex and the aura he projects that they lack the nerve to make the decisions that they know will incur the wrath of him and 75,000. It is a collective failure of nerve on behalf of our county’s leading referees, and a severe indictment of them.

    p.s. Note that Bellamy’s equaliser was scored before the game entered injury time.

  • September 22, 2009 at 3:26 pm


    “p.s. Note that Bellamy’s equaliser was scored before the game entered injury time.”

    that is irrelevant – what matters is whether the board stating a minimum of 4 minutes was set at 4 minutes before or after the celebrations.

    From memory it was set at 4 mins before the goal but I stand to be corrected. But what counts is whether it was included in the 4 mins or not. I don’t think it was.

  • September 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm


    the problem is there is no consistancy. On Sunday the ref decided to add an extra minute for the goal celebration and 30 seconds for the substitution.

    yet when we look at the stats for Wigan v Man Utd we have 6 second half subs, 5 second half goals + 3 bookings ….added on time ?

    2.49 (and that included a goal scored in stoppage time)..judging by the justification for the extra time in the derby they should have played 8 minutes plus any time for injuries.

    The refs clearly make it up as they go along.

  • September 22, 2009 at 4:28 pm


    I think there is consistency – most refs do play to the minutes indicated on the board. That’s why this incident was controversial…

    I don’t think it would be hard to collate enough evidence to prove that referees do favour the big clubs particularly at home. It’s a shame as they don’t need the help.

    Can’t argue with this result though, Man U dominated the game and only Rio’s classy bit of defending let City back in at the death..

  • September 22, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Injury time – time for reform? « Wait until next year

    […] Twohundredpercent does make a valid point about the semantics of stoppage time – four minutes means at least four minutes, not ‘no more than four minutes’. This is fair enough. The referee can add as much time as he sees fit. […]

  • September 22, 2009 at 6:51 pm


    Gary Owen wrote in today’s Manchester Evening News “A lot of has been said about the time added on, but that time was there for both sides and if we (city) had scored I don’t think there would have been too many complaints about timekeeping from the city contingent.”

    For a side that had just equalised and have ambitions to break into the ‘Big 4′, city demonstrated a complete lack of ambition during the time that remained in the match.

  • September 22, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Gervillian Swike

    I haven’t seen any rule that forbids any of Manchester United’s opponents from scoring in stoppage time if they’re good enough.

  • September 23, 2009 at 12:27 am


    Thanks for the comments. As an American fan of the premier league, it’s great to watch a game that is not ruled by television “time outs”, referee reviews of video after a coach challenge, and a clock on the stadium wall.

    Play until the whistle is the law. In this case is was the game end. I’ve watched other times when defenders expect an off side call, a foul or out of bounds and the offense takes the ball to the back-of-the-net.

    I would like to see the goal line technology used as there are too many goals go uncounted each year. Every other major sport uses it. 1/1000 of a ball for “still in” has little consequence to the overall game. 1/1000 of a ball still out just can’t be seen reliably by a human 30 yards away at a poor angle.

  • September 23, 2009 at 1:50 am


    Any response to the above post re: the stats in the Guardian?

  • September 23, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Chris Taylor

    Yeah. There’s likely to be more time added on when Manchester United are losing at home, as the opposition are more likely to be time wasting. Whereas if Manchester United are winning, they’re less likely to need to time waste, and so added time will be less.

  • September 23, 2009 at 6:44 am


    Broadly speaking, I agree with Chris on this issue. Obviously, The Guardian’s job is to sell newspapers and it helps if they can cause a fuss. From a statistical point of view, there are plenty of other reasons why there would be more injury time at matches at Old Trafford in which Manchester United are losing and, quite apart from what he says above, it is a statistically very small number of matches that they lose in, which devalues their “study” of it further.

  • September 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    David Howell

    Good shout on the difficulty of a non-continuous rugby-style clock; as for the perception of ‘Fergie time’, it’s one of those where there’s evidence for it, but not as much as many think – Chris Taylor’s remark an excellent innocent explanation. (The Pedro Mendes decision was ludicrous, that much isn’t in doubt.)

    In this case, four minutes seemed a tad excessive without the goal, but about right with; we still don’t know when the board was set, do we? Can we, even? Anyway, the substitution did take about 30 seconds if I recall rightly, and the goal celebration about a minute. That makes it a horribly, horribly marginal call. Personally I thought the whistle was going to blow just after 95:00, which would have made Stephen Ireland’s clearance from the free kick the final act of the match; perhaps it was meant to be, but as it fell to a United player play was allowed to go on?

    This might even be better for City, actually. Their whole ethos this year is surely about breaking up the ‘cosy Big Four’, even if it takes questionable sources of finance to do so; anything that fuels the perception that the Big Four have unfair advantages is surely only going to motivate them. If it was a conspiracy, it’s one that has within it the seeds of its own destruction.

  • September 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm


    Obviously, the Guardian’s job is to sell newspapers and it helps if they can cause a fuss.

    Presumably this statement can be made about any controversial story run by any newspaper. As it stands, it’s bit of a slur on the integrity of the people who wrote and ran the story, isn’t it?

  • September 23, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Chris Taylor

    It’s not a massive point, like, but a season or two after Roy Carroll immortalised Pedro Mendes, he came back to Old Trafford playing for Portsmouth. Following a Manchester United corner, Mendes headed the ball clear from about a yard behind the line. No one ever mentions that, do they?


  • September 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Gervillian Swike

    Well done Chris. I was just about to mention it. I remember it well.

  • September 24, 2009 at 5:58 pm


    The furore isn’t based on a misunderstanding of the game. I think it has more to do with the fact that a game that the referee was rightly praised for letting flow produced 4 minutes of extra time. Why on earth would 4 minutes have been the minimum?

    If a minute was added on for a celebration that lasted less than a minute no time for the celebration or getting the game re-started was allowed. In addition the game wasn’t immediately concluded once play restarted after Owen’s goal, they played for a further 12 seconds, so that 12 seconds has to be added to a reasonable amount of time between Owen’s goal and the restart, say 30 seconds, to arrive at the true amount of time added on which was over 6 minutes. How?

  • October 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm


    Chris: The 4 minutes of added time originally announced was due to the following:

    Fletcher’s goal @ 49mins: 50 seconds between goal and restart;
    Bellamy’s goal @ 52mins: 48 seconds between goal and restart;
    Park/Valencia substitution: 30secs;
    Berbatov/Owen substitution: 30secs;
    Fletcher’s goal @ 80mins: 54 seconds between goal and restart;
    De Jong/Petrov substitution: 30secs;

    Total = 242 seconds/4:02mins

    Bellamy scored at 89:55, play restarted at 90:50, the four minutes stoppage time then commenced. A further 30 seconds was added for the Anderson/Carrick substitution, meaning play would go on until at least 95:20. Owen scored just seconds after that time. Play restarted 70 seconds later due to the celebration and removing the fan from the pitch @ 96:38. The final whistle went at 96:52. The actual amount of time the ball was in play during stoppage time was 4:22mins.

    Hope that helps settle your mind.

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