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Official had reason to book Celtic's Leigh Griffiths, insists Northern Ireland ref chief Malcolm

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland referees' chief David Malcolm says fans shouldn't rush to judge and blast Spanish referee Alejandro Hernandez for brandishing a yellow card to Leigh Griffiths in Friday's clash at Windsor Park.

The Celtic striker was booked after he picked up a bottle which had been hurled at him as he attempted to take a corner in the second half during the 2-0 win over Linfield.

Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers said the officials "could not explain" the yellow card, while most supporters concluded it was for time wasting.

"It was strange him getting booked for it," added the Carnlough man who admitted he had concerns for his players' safety.

Bottles and coins were thrown at Griffiths while substitute Jonny Hayes was also in the firing line.

Blues fans were angry after the former Hibs frontman made a 5-1 gesture with his hands, referring to a convincing Old Firm rout at Ibrox, and he also tied a Celtic scarf around the goalpost at the end of the game. One supporter was led away by police after running onto the pitch.

Uefa have hit Griffiths with a charge of "provoking spectators".

Malcolm, a member of the Irish FA's Referees' Committee, was at the game as a spectator and feels supporters should try to understand the reasoning behind the booking.

"It looks to me like Leigh Griffiths was booked for either delaying the re-start of play, commonly referred to as time wasting, or for unsporting behaviour, if the referee saw gestures he was making to the crowd. Is that, in any way, inciting trouble?

"The referee would have had a security briefing and been well briefed on the atmosphere surrounding this fixture, and it's also possible that he had been communicating with Griffiths his concerns at other times.

"No one wants to see missile throwing, and of course it is unacceptable behaviour, but from the referee's perspective he would want the play to move on from that area as quickly as possible.

"The worst thing that could happen is for play to stop for a period of time and things escalate. The throwing of missiles can never be condoned but fans should look at the bigger picture before criticising officials. I've no doubt the referee was aware of the wider issues."

There have been calls for the booking to be rescinded but normally yellow cards can only be appealed against in cases of mistaken identity or simulation.

Linfield have said they will investigate the trouble and, where appropriate, issue life bans.

The Blues have been charged with the "throwing of objects" and a "field invasion," with the case to be dealt with by the Uefa Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on July 20. Linfield could receive a fine in the region of £25,000 and be forced to play their next European tie at Windsor behind closed doors. But the Blues will highlight Griffiths' conduct in the hope of escaping with just a fine and a warning.

"There will have been a Uefa match delegate and security officer at the game as well as a referees' assessor," added Malcolm. "As it was a high-profile fixture a security officer was there and their observations will be reported to Uefa. They will study the footage too.

"Linfield will be asked for their observations, and it's disappointing because I witnessed genuine Linfield supporters expressing their disgust at the behaviour of a few. Unfortunately that game attracted some people who aren't genuine Linfield supporters."

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