The EFL has insisted Sunderland had the option to postpone Tuesday night’s League One clash with Wimbledon after their squad was struck by Covid-19.
The Black Cats were without eight players for the 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light as a result of one testing positive for coronavirus and a further seven, two of whom are displaying symptoms, self-isolating.
They opted to go ahead with the game following discussions with the governing body amid concern over the possible repercussions of calling it off, with head coach Lee Johnson later insisting it should not have been played.
However, the PA news agency understands it is the responsibility of a club to inform the league if they believe they are unable to fulfil a fixture rather than the league ordering a postponement.
An EFL spokesperson said: “The safety and well-being of players is a priority and the protocols that have been developed are designed to protect individuals and, if followed, will help prevent the spread of infection.
“All EFL clubs are aware of the processes and steps needed to take in the event of positive cases of Covid-19 and the impact this could have on their wider playing squads.
“Throughout our extensive discussions on Tuesday, it was made clear to the management of Sunderland that the option existed for them to inform the league they were unable to fulfil the fixture, but this would result in the circumstances being investigated as a result of the club being required to fulfil their fixture obligations in accordance with the regulations.
“This is consistent with the approach taken with other clubs who have been faced with similar situation and the requirement to self-isolate players and staff in line with EFL and Government guidance.
“As Sunderland has confirmed, they opted not to do this for the reasons they have identified and to play in the fixture. That decision rested with the club as only they can make the determination on whether they had sufficient players available from their squad to fulfil the fixture.”
Speaking after he game, Johnson said: “That game should have been called off, no doubt in my mind. I can’t help but feel angry, frustrated. At the moment, I am not sure who I am angry at.”
Had Sunderland chosen not to go ahead, the EFL would then have launched an investigation, including an assessment of how coronavirus protocols had been followed, before deciding on what action, if any, would be taken.