Former Premier League referee disagrees with Michael Stewart on Hearts handball verdict against Celtic

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher disagrees with Michael Stewart’s verdict on Celtic’s penalty claim for handball against Hearts defender Michael Smith – and reckons it would have been a different outcome in England.

The ball struck Smith's arm in the box but referee Nick Walsh played on and was not told to review the incident after video assistant referee Steven McLean checked the incident. Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou, whose side went on to win Saturday’s match 4-3, could not believe his side did not get a penalty never mind a VAR review. The incident was one of several contentious issues during the first weekend of VAR's use in the cinch Premiership.

Former Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart believes the correct call was made, but Gallagher reckons Celtic would have had a penalty had the English interpretation of the handball rules been in play. Gallagher told Sky Sports News: "In the Premier League we have seen these given. It bounces up, his arm was out. In Scotland they have a slightly different tolerance level. I think in the Premier League that would have been a penalty."

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Stewart insists Smith’s arm was in a natural position and that he tried to move his arm out of the way. He said on BBC Sportscene: “Nick Walsh is in the right position and I think they come to the right decision. They are very quick with this one. Tell me where Michael Smith’s arms are meant to be? His arms are in a completely natural position. I can understand why some people see this as a penalty because his arms are swinging, but he is moving his body. The rules are if it is a deliberate handball – and that’s not deliberate – or if he is making his body bigger that is not part of a natural movement.”

He added: “He doesn’t move his arm up towards the ball. He’s moving his arm, because the ball is going to hit him, away from the ball. There’s a big problem whereby you get punished as a defender for things that are not deliberate. They’ve changed the handball law so that it no longer means a silhouette or a unnaturally big, which was a ridiculous thing anyway. It is all about the movement of the body and where the arm is in relation to that. What Michael Smith has done is a completely normal action, hence why it is not a penalty kick.”

Fellow Sportscene pundit Shelley Kerr disagreed, with presenter Steven Thomson also expressing his view that it should have been a penalty. “When I watched it at the time I thought right away it was a penalty,” said Kerr, the former Scotland women’s national team boss. “I think he actually moves his arm up towards the ball. I’m not saying it’s intentional, but I think there is a motion towards the ball.” Thomson, the former Dundee United, Rangers and Cardiff City striker, said: “I think most people would see that as a penalty, Michael. It’s a handball in the box.”

Celtic claimed a penalty for handball against Michael Smith, but the VAR stuck with the referee's decision not to award a spot kick. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou can't believe his side haven't been given a penalty for a handball by Michael Smith. Picture: Craig Williamson / SNS
The Celtic players appeal to referee Nick Walsh for a hanball in the box by Michael Smith. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS