By the standards used to judge recent red-carded tackles like Vincent Kompany's against Manchester United and Jay Spearing's against Fulham, on Wednesday night Glen Johnson at the very least put himself in a position where seeing red was a very real possibility. Maybe even the most likely possibility. Importantly, though, there were a pair of key differences between Johnson's sliding effort and similar recent tackles: Unlike Kompany he was going for a loose ball instead of making a tackle on a nearby player, and unlike Spearing he made no contact with that nearby player in the course of his lunging slide to intercept the ball before it reached Joleon Lescott.
Of course, that it wasn't actually the same sort of tackle—or really a tackle at all—as the one that saw Kompany pick up a four-match ban for his second red of the season is a very different question than whether Johnson or any other player is likely see red for such a two-footed, sliding interception attempt. And from that point of view, the answer is almost certainly yes in the current climate, even if Steven Gerrard is entirely right to call out Roberto Mancini's hypocritical approach to complaining Johnson didn't see red after insisting his own player shouldn't have received one in their last match. Some may argue that player protection and smoothing out the rougher edges of the game has been taken too far in recent seasons, but regardless of where one stands on such questions the reality is that there has been a concerted effort to stamp out anything seen as even potentially dangerous.
Johnson may have been in control of his slide, and, as he got it right, Lescott likely wasn't in any real danger—in pictures of the event, you can in fact see Lescott kicking the back of Johnson's legs once he's slid past. But the Liverpool player did have the studs of both feet showing as he slid in, and Lescott would have been in danger of picking up a serious injury had Johnson gotten his aim wrong by a couple of inches or allowed a trailing leg to hang out and wrap around Lescott's nearby ankle. And in the current climate, having both sets of studs showing within ten yards of an opponent would likely be enough—more often than not, at least—to see referee Lee Mason brandish red.
It would have been harsh on Johnson if he had, just as it was harsh on both Spearing and Kompany that they saw red in recent weeks for tackles that to many seemed worthy of yellow at worst. Yet no Liverpool fan watching would have been especially surprised had Mason blown his whistle and gone to his pocket to fish out red. Even if the reality of it was a clean interception that made no dangerous contact with the opponent, in light of recent precedent neither Johnson nor Liverpool's coaching staff would have had room to argue a red be overturned if it had been handed out. Not in a Premier League where no matter if you agree with it or not you generally know that such actions will be punished severely.
Though despite Roberto Mancini and the press latching on to Johnson's "tackle" as the story of an at times painfully dull match, the Liverpool defender's sliding interception wasn't even the most potentially dangerous two-footed lunge that took place across the ninety minutes. In fact, the incident most likely to cause damage to an opponent took place within the first ten minutes, when an energetic Andy Carroll charged deep into his own half in search of the ball as it went to Gael Clichy on the touchline. On the wet Ethiad turf, Carroll slipped as he prepared to attempt a tackle, and instead of sliding in under control he whipped inches past Clichy in an entirely uncontrolled manner. He had both feet out, both sets of studs exposed, and his legs certainly weren't tight together and on the ground.
There was little dangerous intent in that tackle, but it was just as surely the most reckless and dangerous of the match, and far more likely to do damage had he made contact than Jay Spearing's uncontrolled clatter into Fulham's Moussa Dembele that saw him earn red in December. Whether referee Lee Mason simply has a slightly different outlook on the game than many these days or whether there has been talk behind the scenes at the FA of being less free with the handing out of red cards after the criticism of recent weeks is an open question, but that Carroll's uncontrolled slide went completely unpunished was an early signal that on this day at least, a controlled and technically legal effort like Johnson's late in the match—with the studs showing but not towards any opposing player—was likely to be allowed.
Despite the not entirely surprising latest round of Liverpool-related press hysterics, it wasn't a tackle as there was never any intent to separate Lescott from a ball he didn't have in the first place. And it clearly wasn't a red card—if nothing else then because on the day Lee Mason was in a slightly less card-happy mood than many officials of late and didn't see it as worthy of any card. But most evenings it would have at least seen a card of some colour, and a similar incident involving a Liverpool player against Stoke on Saturday or any other future opponent would mean a very good chance that there will be. Right or wrong, it's the reality the players operate within—and they and the coaches all know it. Johnson's sliding interception was inch-perfect, but regardless of that he was lucky to escape unpunished, and chances are that the day after he well knows it.