Belfast Telegraph

Hughes is gutted to sit out Cliftonville's derby scrap

By Graham Luney

Daniel Hughes has admitted his dismissal against Carrick Rangers on Saturday was a "strange decision" and he's gutted to miss the festive showdown with Crusaders at Solitude. The former Warrenpoint Town striker must sit out the Boxing Day battle after being sent off in bizarre circumstances at the weekend.

Hughes won a penalty for his side after being on the painful end of a robust challenge from Carrick keeper Brian Neeson but then a referee's assistant claimed the 24-year-old threw a punch during a melee sparked by the incident.

Reds boss Gerard Lyttle said the dismissal was "the most bizarre decision I have ever seen" and it leaves Hughes sitting out the derby tussle.

"It's not looking like I will play in the Boxing Day game and that's very disappointing," said Hughes.

"Sometimes these things happen - that's football.

"It was a strange decision. It was the assistant referee who gave the penalty and claimed that a punch had been thrown.

"It was merely handbags and there was no punch thrown.

"Their goalkeeper and other Carrick players even told the referee (Mervyn Smyth) there had been no punch thrown.

"I had a sore head on Saturday night after the challenge on me and the goalkeeper wasn't even booked.

"The referee even waved play on. It's a strange one but we all acknowledge that refereeing is a difficult job and they are only human, they will make mistakes.

"They won't get everything right, it was a strange decision but moments like that are part of the game.

"It is very frustrating for me because the Boxing Day game against Crusaders is massive, it's an amazing atmosphere and occasion but I will now miss that and possibly another two matches through suspension.

"You just have to take these setbacks and get on with it."

Lyttle was stunned after the game, saying: "I asked the referee why Daniel was sent off and he can't give me an answer.

"He has made a huge, huge mistake and he has got to hold his hands up and admit it.

"He said the group of them made the decision, but the group of them have got it wrong.

"It's the most bizarre decision I have ever seen. He didn't give anything at the start (of the incident) and now we're down an important player on Boxing Day."

Hughes isn't the only player feeling Boxing Day blues as Crusaders ace David Cushley and Portadown's Keith O'Hara must also serve suspensions.

Cliftonville will have skipper Jason McGuinness available to face the Crues as the club has challenged his six match ban for a headbutt on Portadown's Garry Breen.

And they will go into the Boxing Day showdown in confident mood after resurrecting their title challenge. The 3-0 victory at League Cup finalists Carrick sees the Reds on an eight game unbeaten run in the Premiership.

"Every game is important to the club and we are playing well with a system that suits us," added Hughes.

"We are now on an eight match unbeaten run in the league and the team is flying.

"I'll support the boys all I can but not being able to play is disappointing.

"Skin (Gerard Lyttle) is doing a brilliant job and even with injuries and suspensions we are playing well.

"We have a young lad Aaron Donnelly, who is only 16 and playing at centre back so the squad's strength in depth is being tested but we are battling hard."

• FORMER Linfield midfielder Norman Kelly has been appointed as Gary Smyth's number two at H&W Welders.

Kelly had a coaching spell at Glenavon after leaving Ballymena United with Glenn Ferguson.

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