THEY say football is all about opinions and that opinions are often divided.
This proved to be the case big-style on Saturday at Croft Park, home of Blyth Spartans FC, when a substantial 706 people – which included the travelling Droylsden fans if truth be told – saw a clear handball on the line while a miserly two, the referee and his assistant, did not.
The third round FA Trophy tie finished 2-2 and commenting on the remarkable incident, Spartans’ manager Mick Tait said: “It soured an excellent game of football.
“But I thought we played well enough to have won what was a cracking cup tie.
”We restricted Droylsden to only two efforts which unfortunately they scored from.
“I was a bit disappointed that although we had good possession and were getting good pace on our crosses, which it what we like to do, a lot of them were over hit.”
The visitors took the lead after a fairly even first half hour when Mark Boyd hit a stunning 35 yard shot high in the Blyth goal with Spartans keeper Dan Lowson rooted to the spot.
“Even if we’d had two or three goalkeepers we wouldn’t have kept that effort out,” said Tait.
“However no one from my side released themselves to close him down before he hit the ball. If we had done that maybe we could have distracted him from his strike.“
Within minutes equal measures of rage and laughter characterised the opposing teams with Blyth seething at the referee, he having failed to spot the handball on the goal line, while the Droylsden players could scarcely conceal their mirth.
Michael Tait had forced the Bloods goalkeeper Paul Phillips into an outstanding parry, the ball going for a corner.
The resulting kick was headed by Tait towards the very top corner of the net and with Phillips nowhere to be seen Cirran Kilheeney rose, hand high above his head, and clawed the ball away.
An apoplectic Tait said: ”Kilheeney should have let it go in, he was crackers for handling it and risking being sent off but he got away with it somehow. He was on the goaline defending his post as the corner came in then he dived backwards to pull the ball back.
“Logic tells you it was over the line and the goal should have stood and the player sent off.
“Even if it wasn’t over the line he should have been dismissed and a penalty given. Our players couldn’t believe it while theirs just found it funny.“
One nil down at half-time the Blyth dressing room was a cauldron.
“We took three or four minutes to stop everyone raging about the handball incident,” added Tait.
“They all had their say but we knew we had to put it behind us and to go out again and keep playing the way we were.
“We knew we were the better team and that they were not hurting us.”
Three opportunities within three minutes of the restart were wasted by Blyth with Tait, Nicky Deverdics and Neal Hooks all firing wide but on 52 minutes Robbie Dale was fouled in the penalty box and Paul Brayson drove the penalty kick into the bottom corner of the goal.
Tait dismissed suggestions that the decision was a ‘soft’ one with the referee making up for his earlier mistake.
“No, that certainly wasn’t the case,” he said. “It was a stonewall penalty.”
Controversy then returned with a vengeance as Droylsden’s Luke Holden, who had been booked in the first half, was pulled up by the referee for what appeared to be persistently infringing the laws of the game and unsporting behaviour intended to deceive the referee.
A second yellow card and a sending off for receiving the second caution could reasonably have been expected but the player remained on the pitch and, to rub salt into Blyth’s wounds, played a crucial part in the Bloods’ equalising goal late in the match.
Tait commented: “There are no two ways about it – he should have been off. He dived to win a free kick and the referee also pointed to where one, two, three previous offences had been committed.”
Blyth took the lead on 78 minutes following incisive interplay which saw Brayson lay off the ball to Stephen Turnbull who surged in the penalty area before finding Deverdics who fired across goal for Dale to prod home from two yards.
The Spartans joy was short lived, as within three minutes, Droylsden equalised when a Holden free kick was headed home, with ease, by Kilheeney.
It left Tait frustrated: “We have defended really well for months but three of my players fell asleep allowing three of their players in with the chance of scoring. We need to be able to maintain our concentration 100 per cent over 90 minutes.”
Despite the frustrations of the game Tait was looking forward: “We can moan all we like but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
“On another day we would have created more chances and would have won.
“We will go to the replay at Droylsden on Monday with confidence. We know we can get at them but we must restrict their opportunities too.”
It is likely Blyth will be without Robbie Dale who limped off in the second half on Saturday while Tait is hoping to bring in a player or two at some stage bearing in mind Callum Morris is staying to play in Spain following trials with the Glenn Hoddle Academy.
A lively encounter can be expected at the Butchers Arms ground with the place in the Trophy quarter finals at stake.