Belfast Telegraph

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Top ref Hackett blasts 'weak and nasty' Windsor blunders

By Paul Ferguson

Former Premier League referees' chief Keith Hackett believes Northern Ireland fell victim to not one, but two glaring errors by Romanian official Ovidiu Hategan in their World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland on Thursday night at Windsor Park.

Vastly experienced Hackett denounced the decision by the match ref to only book Fabian Schar for a reckless fifth-minute lunge on Stuart Dallas rather than show a straight red.

And he was stunned as Hategan awarded a penalty for deliberate handball by Corry Evans- even though replays showed the ball struck the Blackburn Rovers midfielder on his right shoulder.

Hategan's blunders allowed the Swiss to come away with a crucial 1-0 victory and a vital away goal that leaves Northern Ireland needing to create history in the play-off second leg tomorrow in Basel if they are to reach the World Cup finals in Russia.

No team in World Cup play-off history has ever lost their first leg at home and fought back to qualify.

Ex-Premier League whistler Hackett said the Romanian ref showed 'weakness' and 'produced two nasty surprises' in his handling of the game.

Hackett rapped: "Rarely do you see a referee at international level make one glaring error in a game, let alone two. It was Northern Ireland's ill luck to encounter such an unfortunate scenario.

"The first mistake was his reaction to a reckless challenge with excessive force that clearly endangered the safety of an opponent (Dallas). Instead of producing a red card for Switzerland's Fabian Schar, he showed weakness by pulling out of his pocket a yellow.

"Referees must ensure that challenges of this nature are punished correctly in order to send out a clear signal.

"The game may have been dominated by Switzerland, but sadly the game also hinged on another crucial decision with the Romanian referee judging that a Northern Ireland player (Evans) deliberately handled the ball.

"However it was clear on replays that the criteria for handball had not been fulfilled. Evans jumped and turned his back in order to defend a shot from a short distance.

"It was not a deliberate handball as Evans' arm was by his side when the ball struck. At this level no referee wants to deliver such a massive error."

Hackett believes these costly errors from Hategan cement the need for video technology to be introduced, but warned: "Video will only operate accurately if the selected VAR (Video Assistant Referee) official is a top performing former or current experienced referee."

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