Ref In Focus: Atkinson a balanced referee, but likes draws a bit too much

Martin Atkinson might well be the fairest referee in the Premier League. Always a somewhat understated presence, the 46-year-old finds himself in the middle of the referees’ 19-man pack on virtually every statistical front this season, namely fouls per game, fouls per tackle, yellow cards per game and penalties per game.

That suggests an evenly-officiated contest when Atkinson referees Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Middlesbrough on the final day of the season this Sunday, but if there’s one anomaly that stands out and should have Reds fans worried, it’s the high number of draws under Atkinson this season – seven from 26 games, which is the sixth-highest ratio in the Premier League.

With Arsenal breathing down their necks, only a win on Sunday will guarantee Liverpool Champions League football for next season, something Jurgen Klopp desperately needs to bring the club and his team forward.

Another concern might be Atkinson’s slight reluctance to blow the whistle compared to other referees. Whereas Liverpool rank 19th for fouls in the Premier League this season, opponents Middlesbrough come in third – suggesting Atkinson will be more lenient towards the visitors’ style of play.

And with Boro’s Championship status for next season already confirmed, anything could happen at Anfield this Sunday.