Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew hit out last night at an "unbelievable" sequence of decisions by referee Mark Halsey which saw Wigan Athletic secure a dubious late winner after their 20-year-old midfielder Callum McManaman escaped dismissal for one of the most atrocious challenges of the season.
The high tackle which saw Newcastle's French defender Massadio Haidara despatched home to the North East in a people carrier at half time, with bad bruising and suspected knee ligament damage, led Pardew's assistant John Carver to lunge towards the 20-year-old Premier League debutante at half time. Wigan academy coach Graham Barrow made to hit back and in the ensuing fracas both men were dismissed and sent to the stands by Halsey.
The fact that Haidara did not need hospital treatment for what Newcastle defender Ryan Taylor last night described on Twitter as a "s***house tackle" and that it was not an ambulance removing him suggests the new may be better than first feared. But Pardew described the tackle which left Haidara unable to extend his leg at half time as "abysmal" and declared: "There is a bad feeling on top of it when it goes unpunished. It's like anything: it if it goes unpunished it doubles the impact on the mentality of the players and the team."
Pardew was withering in his response to Roberto Martinez's claim that McManaman had not been wilfully violent – "well maybe it it'll change his opinion when he sees it" – but there are mitigating circumstances where the referee is concerned. Halsay may have been unsighted by Newcastle's Mapou Yang-Mbiwa, running across his line of vision. McManaman is now sweating on whether he faces a three-game retrospective ban, which would rule him out of his side's Wembley FA Cup semi-final with Millwall, there is early evidence that such action will not be taken by the governing body.
For a retrospective red to be issued, Halsay would have to declare in his extraordinary incident report today that he did not see the incident, but the fact that he awarded a free kick against the midfielder for a handball in that phase of play suggests that he saw the challenge but missed the violent conduct. That would put the incident in the same category as Mario Balotelli's challenge on Bacary Sagna at the Emirates last season, when Balotelli escaped what would would retrospectively have been a second red.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said he believed his player would escape a red for this reason when Halsey files his report on the game to Wembley. "Remember Callum is making his Premier League debut and you are going to give your life," he said. "I'm aware it's a bad challenge and nobody wants to see that but it's a striker wanting to win a ball. He's not got a bad bone. It's not a nasty challenge. We don't need to look into those decisions for an intension. He couldn't be a nicer boy. We're not a nasty team."
Pardew's own indignation was compounded by the way that Wigan won the game, with Halsey failing to award a corner for his own side seconds before Wigan escaped up to the other end of the field and won one of their own from which Arouna Kone scored despite Maynor Figueroa handling the ball as it looped into the box.
Though the Haidara incident dominated it, it was a game which demonstrated that Wigan are not a side stalked by the thought of relegation. "We must not lose sight of the fact we have become an example in world football of continually defying the odds," Martinez said in his programme notes and their performance revealed that the side who propped up the Premier League table on the corresponding weekend of the past two seasons are in a different place now, literally and figuratively.
McManaman's punishment for his high challenge is that a game which he would like to have remembered for creating a goal on his Premier League debut will instead always be an ignominious one. The game was fewer than 20 minutes old when the Merseysider, operating on the Wigan right, ran to the byline and hoisted a cross which missed all but Davide Santon, whose header landed straight at the feet of Jean Beausejour, who threaded in his first Wigan goal, right-footed through the legs of Rob Elliot.
The defensive mix-up was a poor one but Wigan made more of their own opportunities against a Newcastle who were forced to reorganise when Haidara, a 17th minute substitute for Mathieu Debuchy who pulled a hamstring, was stretchered from the field when McManaman's challenge went in, seven minutes after the goal. Maloney bent a right foot shot from just inside the area which Elkliot palmed away, as Emmerson Boyce lurked for the pickings and Beausejour struck the pass of the match which sent James McCarthy sprinting away into the Newcastle area and baring down on Eliot. The turf defied McCarthy, a divot taking the ball out of his control, before Jonas Gutierez arrived with a vital tackle.
Two chances fell to Papiss Cisse either side of the interval but by then the entire course of the game had been affected by the escalating significance of McManaman's tackle on Haidara. Wigan had initially seemed most affected. The quality of their own game dropped. But Carver's extraordinary, premediated attack on a 20-year-old – the most appalling conduct of the day – prompted a series of unsavoury challenges by the Newcastle team: Gutierrez on Shaun Maloney, James Perch on Beausejour and substitute Shola Ameobi on Paul Scharner
Wigan's failings in possession set the Newcastle equaliser in train, allowing a slick exchange of passes which concluded with Cisse flicking the ball behind Martinez's defence when Davide Santon gathered it, drove into the area and drilled a low shot through Scharner's legs. There was still time for the Kone winner which, come May, could be worth multi millions for Wigan. Last night, there was no way beyond the controversy.