Cliftonville boss Eddie Patterson last night rapped Lithuanian referee Gediminas Mazeika after his side went down 3-0 to CSKA Sofia.
Patterson had no qualms about the result in the Vasil Levski Stadium, but he was left seething by the display of the man in the middle, claiming that CSKA’s status in European football had influenced the official.
The Reds lost striker Stephen Garrett late in the game as he was sent off for two dubious bookable offences.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it that the bigger clubs get the big decisions in European football,” fumed Patterson.
“I’m not saying for one second that the referee cost us the game, but I was frustrated so many times by what he was doing.
“Liam Boyce was consistently fouled, but their players seemed to get away with things that we were punished for.
“I can understand Peter Hutton getting frustrated in the first-half when he composed himself when under pressure to get rid of danger and one of their players dived trying to get a penalty — but nothing was said by the referee.
“When I asked the referee about it after the match he refused to listen to me and he told my players to stop counting fouls and get on with their own game.
“But we will learn lessons from the first-leg and it’s a great learning curve for us all. Maybe the answer is to fight fire with fire in Europe, I don’t know. We did ride our luck at times, particularly in the first-half, but I was very proud of the attitude and performance and they have done the club and fans proud yet again”
Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor asked the UEFA Delegate to suggest the referee should look at the Garrett sending-off again, but he doesn’t hold out much hope of an appeal as it was a second yellow card.
“It was a disgraceful decision. His first yellow card was for his first foul of the game and his second wasn’t even a foul”, added Patterson.
“Their number 18 Galchev fouled eight times before he was booked and the number four Stoyanov was guilty of dangerous play on Garrett.
“I asked to speak to the referee, the assessor and the UEFA delegate, but none of them would talk to me and that was frustrating.”
From a broader perspective Patterson is delighted with his side and the progression that they and the rest of the league’s representatives have made this year.
“We strive to qualify every year and over the last few seasons we have done ourselves proud in Europe. If you battle all season long to get their you have to do yourself justice when you get there.” he said. “The league has improved over the past few seasons and if all four European qualifiers carry their form into the new season it will be very interesting.”