Martin Atkinson is a name that carries a particular sour notion on Merseyside. The Premier League official has emerged as a rather unpopular figure for both the blue and red half of the city.
The West Yorkshire referee has become somewhat of a pantomime villain for Liverpool over the years. There was the shambolic performance at Old Trafford, the VAR scandal to deny Roberto Firmino a perfectly legal goal, the list goes on.
However, much to the surprise of many, it was in-fact Atkinson who came to Liverpool’s aid in the 234th Merseyside derby during one of the game’s pinnacle moments.
Despite their blistering start that saw the European champions command a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes, Everton quickly pulled a goal back through Michael Keane and momentum was threatening to shift.
The Blues were beginning to emerge a serious threat on the break and suddenly – trailing 2-1 – Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unleashed through on goal. Anfield became engulfed in silence before the incoming Virgil van Dijk came storming back to make a challenge. Chaos erupted in the away stand. Everton supporters were crying out for a penalty.
Mike Dean quickly waved the decision away before the notorious VAR system once again took centre stage. After frequent checks, the penalty was indeed chalked off and Liverpool could certainly count themselves fortunate.
Despite it appearing that Van Dijk did, in fact, make contact with Calvert-Lewin, it was Atkinson who was overseeing duties in the VAR headquarters to subsequently deny Everton the penalty.
Not only did Liverpool avoid a potential spot-kick against them but had it been brought back for the penalty then the Netherland’s captain would have surely been destined for a red card for denying Calvert-Lewin a goalscoring opportunity.
It mattered very little in the end as the Reds eventually romped to a deserved victory to cement an eight-point lead at the Premier League summit.
Atkinson will never be a loved figure in city of Liverpool but it was certainly interesting to see the 48-year-old defy reason to benefit Jurgen Klopp’s team.