Former Northern Ireland internationals Neil Lennon and Chris Brunt have slammed what they viewed as a ‘shambolic’ decision to send off Jamal Lewis during the World Cup qualifier in Switzerland.
The Newcastle United full-back was shown a second yellow card for time wasting with only 36 minutes on the clock in Geneva, sparking a vociferous reaction from the travelling support and the two pundits in the Sky Sports studio.
Having already been rightly booked for hauling down Breel Embolo after getting turned on the wing and with the score still at 0-0, Lewis stood over a throw-in.
It took 23 seconds from the ball went out of the play until Slovenian referee Slavko Vinčić produced the second yellow and subsequently the red.
It was a decision that incensed both Lennon and Brunt, who laid out their feelings during the break.
“Watch the referee,” began Lennon, speaking as he watched through the replay of the incident. “He’s pointing at Jamal, fine, but he’s not saying ‘get a move on, get a move on’.
“He’s still stood still. Now Jamal could have thrown it a couple of times but still the referee doesn’t warn him, doesn’t blow the whistle.
“Now he starts walking over to him, blows the whistle, gives him a second yellow card. It is shambolic. I have never seen a player get booked for time-wasting on 36 minutes in any game in my life. It is an awful decision.
“I wouldn’t like that as a player, the way their staff threw the ball hard at him. So maybe he’s just going ‘ah I’ll show you’.
“Come over, have a word and say ‘you do it again, it’s a second yellow and you’re off’, but you don’t just come over with no explanation and give him a second yellow card.
“No wonder Ian (Baraclough – NI manager) and the boys on the bench are absolutely livid. This is a huge game."
Brunt, who explained his decision to retire from international duty after the contentious World Cup play-off defeat to the Swiss four years ago in today’s Belfast Telegraph, agreed with the ex-Celtic boss.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said.
"I think the referee, because the crowd has been whistling and booing from the word go, he thinks he needs to make an example of somebody, he’s pulled the yellow card out and then he’s realised he has to send him off. You can sort of see it on his face.
“It’s a ridiculous decision.”
It’s a moment that will have brought back immediate memories for the Northern Ireland fans of that 2017 play-off defeat, in which the only goal came after a contentious penalty was awarded by Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan for an alleged handball by Corry Evans at Windsor Park.
And in last month’s qualifying tie against Switzerland in Belfast, Michael Smith was adjudged to have fouled the quick-footed Ruben Vargas for the award of another contested penalty, although it was saved by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
“That’s three games I’ve watched Northern Ireland against Switzerland. The penalty in the play-off, the penalty in the last game and now this,” concluded Lennon.
"I think the decision is fundamentally wrong. It lacked common sense,” he continued at full-time.
"It’s 36 minutes and 15 seconds in and you’re sent off for time wasting. It’s absolute nonsense.”