Belfast Telegraph

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Blues give local refs red card after Seaview farce

By Alex Mills

Linfield defender Mark Stafford last night had his red card rescinded, but it failed to prevent his club from urging the Irish Football Association to improve the standard of refereeing in this country.

Referee Raymond Hetherington was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in Wednesday night's Bet McLean League Cup tie at Seaview.

The Dungannon official had no hesitation in showing Crusaders midfielder David Cushley a red card following a meaty collision with Stafford.

But after consulting with his officials on the touchline, Hetherington reversed his decision, rescinding Cushley's red card before flashing it in the face of Stafford. It was a bizarre incident that angered Linfield boss David Healy and the big travelling support.

Hetherington and his officials yesterday reviewed the incident before deciding to rescind Stafford's dismissal. But Linfield last night issued a statement, claiming the mistakes are now happening at an alarming rate.

"The Club wishes to put on record its extreme disappointment that yet another significant error by officials with vital implications has gone against the Club," the statement read.

"We have now witnessed costly mistakes by match officials at Coleraine and Ballinamallard, resulting in either the loss of league points or unwarranted disciplinary sanctions against a player.

"Those mistakes follow on from a series of refereeing errors during the course of last season, including a well-publicised incident at Glenavon, which cost the Club points.

"The Club recently highlighted the fact that incorrect decisions in professional football can have costly consequences and called on those involved in running the local game to make every effort to improve standards and increase confidence in those officiating at our games.

"And, the latest incident has further heightened this Club's lack of confidence in our match officials. Although we accept the latest error and the dismissal of Mark Stafford has been rescinded, we cannot continue to tolerate a situation where the outcome of crucial games is being so heavily influenced by obvious mistakes from match officials.

"Linfield Football Club calls on the IFA's Referees Committee to urgently examine these incidents and to ensure that those involved are held to account for their actions. We also urge a full review of refereeing to be carried out by the IFA in order to put clearly needed plans in place to improve the quality for the future. This will require a significant financial investment to deliver the required outcomes."

Crues skipper Colin Coates saluted the "bravery" of Hetherington and his officials.

"A straight red was probably harsh on Mark Stafford. The tackle warranted a yellow card, which would have had him sent off anyway because he had been already booked," he said.

"In terms of the decision, the officials got it right. Credit must go to the referee's assistant because he stepped in to override the referee's initial decision.

"Raymond was brave to change his decision. No one likes to see that happen, it doesn't look good, especially as the game was on television, and I'm sure Linfield felt aggrieved, but I feel the officials made the right call.

"It's always tasty against the Blues. We've been the top two for the past few years, so the meetings are always feisty."

Belfast Telegraph

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