Linfield boss Healy hits out after referee's red card U-turn
Crusaders 2-0 Linfield
Linfield boss David Healy labelled Raymond Hetherington's decision to dismiss Mark Stafford in last night's BetMcLean League Cup loss to Crusaders as "shocking".
In a game that lived up to its billing, it was the referee who took centre stage on a night of drama at Seaview.
Goals from Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte earned the Crues a berth in the semi-final draw, but they were overshadowed by a bizarre incident midway through the second half when David Cushley collided with Linfield's Stafford.
Hetherington immediately flashed a red card in the Crues man's direction.
But after consultation with his officials on the touchline, he rescinded the decision and instead sent Stafford to the dressing room.
"It was a shocking, shocking decision," rapped Healy.
"The referee, who was five yards away, actually got it right. But he was influenced by other officials who were 30 yards away.
"His initial reaction was right - his decision to change it was wrong.
"I have to ask the question, why do the officials on the sidelines have to get involved?
"Not only have they (the officials) hung us out tonight, they have also hung the referee out.
- READ MORE: Watch: Referee reverses red card decision in bizarre clash between Crusaders and Linfield
"The referee is going to get knocked down after this because he was influenced by other people - people making poor decisions on the sideline.
"Television coverage will back it up.
"What I don't know is that Stafford's challenge was not a red card offence - absolutely not.
"As manager of this club I'm hurting because I'm losing games.
"I'm disappointed with the run of form we are on, but we are not getting too much help from outside."
It certainly was a feisty start from both teams with Colin Coates and Stafford both booked inside the first four minutes following nasty challenges on Andy Waterworth and Heatley respectively.
But it was the Blues who almost opened the scoring when Waterworth met an Andy Mitchell free-kick and his flicked header fizzed inches past the post.
The Crues were then forced into an early substitution with Cushley introduced for Mark McChrystal, who appeared to have an injury problem.
It was hectic stuff. Jordan Owens curled a shot into the arms of Roy Carroll before Jordan Stewart's trickery created an opening for Chris Casement at the other end, but the defender blazed over.
Crusaders were almost in front on 13 minutes following a great move involving Whyte and Heatley, who squared a pass for Cushley, whose wicked drive flashed inches past the post.
The lively Heatley was next to try his luck with a spectacular scissors kick following a flick from Owens, but his shot drifted wide.
But it was Brian Jensen who was first to be seriously tested on 25 minutes when he was forced to tip over a Mitchell free-kick after Niall Quinn had been flattened by an untidy challenge from Billy Joe Burns.
Then, from Quinn's in-swinging corner kick, Stafford could only direct his header past the post, which must go down as a big chance.
The visitors began to up the ante and were right out of luck on 35 minutes when Waterworth skipped away from Howard Beverland before picking out Stephen Lowry, who spotted Stewart skipping into the box - but his shot rocketed into the side netting.
But it was the home fans who were celebrating eight minutes before the break with that Heatley opener.
The energetic Jordan Forsythe found Owens, who eased his way past Mark Haughey before firing in a low cross that was touched home by the little striker.
It wasn't a surprise that the pace slackened after the half-time break.
But the Crues almost grabbed a killer second goal on 63 minutes when Forsythe's delicious dipping volley beat Carroll all ends up, only for the ball to crash against the underside of the crossbar.
The game erupted for all the wrong reasons on 63 minutes when Cushley and Stafford collided in the centre circle. Referee Hetherington immediately flashed a red card in the direction of the Crusaders man.
Within seconds after consulting with his fourth official Evan Boyce, he rescinded the decision and instead issued a second yellow card to Stafford, who simply couldn't believe his luck.
Crusaders almost killed it off 11 minutes from the finish when Heatley crossed for Owens, whose volley looked destined for the corner of the net until Carroll somehow got down to save.
The Blues were giving it a go as the clock ticked down and they were almost level with six minutes remaining when Matty Clarke and Aaron Burns teed up Waterworth, whose shot rippled the side netting.
But as the Blues piled forward for an equaliser with Carroll joining his forwards for a free-kick, Crusaders broke down the left with Heatley crossing for Whyte to tap home.