Referee Andy Haines took centre stage with some contentious decisions as a 0-0 draw was played out at the Wham Stadium between Accrington Stanley and Lincoln City.
The two top half League One teams were playing out an entertaining contest before Haines intervened in the second half and made not one, but two utterly atrocious judgments. The first to book Lincoln winger Brennan Johnson for simulation when he was in fact scythed down by Stanley defender Cameron Burgess inside the box, with the second being the showing of a red card to home winger Sean McConville.
Both teams started quickly, setting out to attack fluidly and to enforce a high press, leading to many incidences where the ball was won deep in opposition territory. Within the first three minutes both sides had a sight of goal, Matt Butcher forcing Lincoln goalkeeper Alex Palmer into a good save and moments later, an errant backpass from Reds centre-back Cameron Burgess was eventually cleared away without any further damage.
Without many clear chances being created, the match remained an end-to-end encounter throughout the first half with Joe Pritchard taking aim from long range for Stanley on more than one occasion despite ever failing to challenge Palmer. However, the winger should have put the home side ahead when presented with a chance inside the 18-yard area on the stroke of half-time, but failed to hit the target.
As the second half started it was clear neither team could keep up the high intensity they had managed for the majority of the first half with more mistakes creeping in. However, it would soon become apparent that errors were not just being made by the players.
Step up, referee Andy Haines.
57 minutes in was where the madness began. Johnson had evaded the Stanley defence down the right hand side and surged into the penalty area, shifting the ball past Burgess who clumsily took the winger out, blatantly. Over strides Haines, whistle in mouth, most people think (quite rightly) that he’s blowing for a penalty.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Johnson was shown a yellow card for what was a disgusting dive, at least according to Haines, who it turns out was only really blowing hot air.
Aside from this piece of insanity which surely left most people watching at home wondering whether they’d taken some sort of hallucinogenic drug, a piece of history was created as Sean McConville was brought on to make his 309th Football League appearance in the colours of Accrington Stanley. This is a new record for the club as the winger surpassed former captain Andy Proctor’s total of 308 games played in the EFL.
However, we can’t have nice things in Accrington. Just five minutes after achieving a major milestone in his career, Sean McConville’s special day was brought to a shuddering halt. Haines, who at this point was almost embodying Marvel Cinematic Universe villain Thanos with his ability to make people disappear at his own whim, decided the Stanley player had made a dangerous challenge upon Lewis Montsma, and sent McConville off almost as the tackle went in.
Let’s delve deeper into this. McConville had challenged for a ball dropping high out of the air with little knowledge of the opposition player’s presence in front of him and had caught Montsma on the head with his right boot entirely unintentionally. Of course, this in itself does not mean he cannot be given his marching orders.
However, the decision to send McConville off would have been justified if he had made the challenge at a dangerous height. He didn’t, Montsma had stooped pretty low (quite like Haines) for the ball and was always risking a collision. Furthermore, if the Stanley player had gone in with his studs showing, there would have been at least some sense behind the judgment, but no, that didn’t happen either.
Of course, the sending off did change the game quite drastically. With ten minutes to go, Lincoln substitute Anthony Scully struck a shot against the base of the post with Toby Savin stranded. The away side were the only team attacking for the remainder of the match, but failed to make the breakthrough, meaning each side gained a point from the encounter, with Stanley no doubt being the happier with that outcome.
A goalless draw means Stanley’s good recent form in the league continues with a fourth consecutive clean sheet, the first time the Reds have achieved this since 2005. On the other hand, Lincoln have now gone three games without winning despite a strong start to the season.
Imps fans shouldn’t worry too much about this little blip, their team played some good stuff today and although the main story today was about the referee and his inability to perform his duties effectively, it should also be mentioned that Lincoln City certainly did give Stanley a game today. In my opinion it was two closely matched teams cancelling each other out which made for a good contest.
Onto Tuesday for Stanley, when they face newly promoted Crewe Alexandra at home looking to get back to winning ways. Let’s just hope the referee that evening decides to be a less formidable foe. My advice to whoever is the lead official is to be more like a Star Wars Stormtrooper, you’re always aware of their presence but know any sort of serious damage is unlikely.