Disaster struck for West Bromwich Albion just over a minute into their match against Manchester City. Wilfried Bony seized upon Gareth McAuley's poor back pass, and was subsequently hacked down by Craig Dawson. Referee Neil Swarbrick didn't immediately blow his whistle—presumably playing advantage and seeing if Bony would get up and score—but then did so as McAuley recovered to make a clean tackle on Bony.
Here is where it gets confusing. Swarbrick subsequently awarded Manchester City a free kick outside of the box—therefore indicating that he was penalizing Craig Dawson for his initial foul—but then gave Gareth McAuley a red card. Huh?
At halftime, BT Sport's Darren Fletcher got an explanation. Via BBC:
BT Sport's Darren Fletcher said on commentary during the match that the referee told a BT Sport reporter at half-time that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Fletcher added that the first number the official saw during the incident was McAuley's 23, rather than the 25 of Dawson.
Swarbrick's mistake probably didn't affect the ultimate outcome of the game. Dawson was the last man and denied Bony an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Awarding a free kick and sending him off was a perfectly reasonable decision, Swarbrick just got the wrong man. City won 3-0 with 43(!) shot attempts; it probably wouldn't have made a difference whether it was McAuley or Dawson out there on the pitch. And like what happened to Wes Brown just a few weeks ago, McAuley will almost assuredly have his red card rescinded.
But incorrect sending offs are starting to become a problem that the Premier League needs to deal with. It is the second time it has occurred this season, and it also happened to Kieran Gibbs last season. I am not a video replay zealot, but it seems insane that I—sitting on my couch thousands of miles away from Manchester—can know immediately that Swarbrick made a horrifically wrong decision, but he has to make do with "I think I saw the number 23 not 25." Something's got to give.