Controversial penalty proves costly for Hibs

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Television evidence, eh? It’s been the cause of many heated debates among the traditionalists who see the match referee as the final aribiter and those who insist advances in technology can’t be ignored.

There’s a case to be made on both sides of the argument, the SFA finally gave in to the growing clamour for cameras to be used to review contentious issues within games.

Along with it came the threat of “retrospective” action to be taken against those who felt they might have “got away with it” if a serious misdemeanour escaped the attention of the referee and his assistant.

The long lenses would see all, provide irrefutable evidence, and allow the newly-appointed compliance officer Vincent Lunny to “offer” perceived perpetrators and their clubs the opportunity to accept a ban or challenge his findings.

While Scottish referees are frequently lauded by the Hampden authorities as being among the best in Europe if not the world, they obviously thought there were sufficient incidents escaping the attention of match-day officials to make Lunny’s a full-time appointment.

As a consequence Lunny finds himself reviewing controversial moments on a weekly basis before deciding to make his “offer”, one which can be challenged and forwarded to the SFA’s Fast Track Tribunal. Hibs managed to make convincing enough a case for Garry O’Connor to escape punishment after the tribunal upheld referee Steve Conroy’s penalty award against St Johnstone but Rangers failed to do so after the same official pointed to the spot as Sone Aluko went down when challenged by Dunfermline star Martin Hardie.

Today it seems Lunny’s services will again be called upon following the penalty award which earned Aberdeen victory over Hibs, Scott Vernon’s strike helping cement the Easter Road outfit’s place alongside the Pars at the bottom of the table.

Peter Pawlett’s tumble as he was challenged by Ivan Sproule incensed all in green and white, Dons boss Craig Brown, understandably, jumping to the defence of his player by insisting the incident would have been deemed a foul anywhere else on the pitch. Not so, insisted Sproule who, well aware he may suffer some sanction from the SFA for speaking out, blasted referee Craig Thomson, reckoned by many to be the best in Scotland.

The fact Thomson later sent Pawlett off for a tackle on Lewis Stevenson – another decision seen by the vast majority at Pittodrie as simply wrong – did little to assuage Sproule’s feelings.

The furious Northern Ireland star, who was booked for making his feelings known, said: “You get into trouble for speaking out but I am giving an honest opinion on what was a shocking decision.

“Players get punished for other actions and maybe it will take putting a referee down to the First Division for a week or two because that was nothing short of a shambles.

“That was one of the poorest refereeing performances I have seen for a long time. He made the sending off because of what happened at the penalty. I don’t even think it was a straight red.

“The SFA will have to take a long look at the ref’s display.” Hibs boss Pat Fenlon, who broke the convention that managers shouldn’t approach referees until 20 minutes after the final whistle by making for Thomson as he trudged towards the tunnel, backed Sproule by saying: “I have seen it again and it was not a penalty. There was a coming together but no connection as such, the ball just trickles on.

“The referee has to take a bit longer and make sure he is 100 per cent certain. He was in a good position and he should have made a proper decision.

“It’s definitely not a penalty but I think on the run we are on at the moment things like that are going against us.”

Asked if he thought it was a dive, Fenlon clearly hinted he felt Lunny should review the incident in replying: “That’s for others to decide.”

Fenlon also agreed Pawlett’s red card wasn’t warranted, raising the curious situation in that the 20-year-old may have that rescinded but find himself hit with a two-match ban for “simulation.”

Whatever Lunny’s investigations may bring, it won’t alter the fact that Hibs lost again, Vernon’s goal, even if illegally won, won’t be erased just as Nikica Jelavic’s penalty against the Pars following Aluko’s dive, which ultimately proved to be the winner, stands today.

Pawlett, like Aluko, may yet be punished retrospectively under the new protocol but that will be of no solace to Fenlon and his players, just as Aluko’s ban would have been of little comfort to Dunfermline manager Jim McIntyre.

What matters to each of them at the moment is points. McIntyre will feel Aluko’s action robbed his side of one while Fenlon no doubt has similar misgivings with Hibs goalkeeper Graham Stack untroubled throughout the 90 minutes by the Dons.

It’s all only a matter of conjecture today, of course, but had Thomson, at least in the eyes of Hibs, called it right, then the Edinburgh club could well have been returning home with at least one precious point rather than seeing their predicament deepen ever so slightly.

Vernon’s spot-kick was Aberdeen’s only shot on target in the entire game – Stack coming agonisingly close to pushing it aside – but while Dons goalkeeper Jason Brown was the busier, saving well from Martin Scott and, in the dying seconds, Danny Galbraith, Hibs carried little more firepower than their opponents.

Akpo Sodje, however, had a great opportunity to equalise, knocking the ball against the legs of Brown eight minutes from the end.

Fenlon, pictured right, said: “Akpo probably had the best chance of the game. He should score from there.”

The danger for Hibs and Dunfermline alike is that unless they begin to pick up wins far less the odd point here and there, they run the danger of finding themselves becoming detached from the rest. Seven points in a week have catapulted Aberdeen from bottom to ninth, the boost in confidence from those results as welcome as the points.

Inverness Caley, of course, remain just one point ahead of the bottom two and although, like Dunfermline, his side have a game in hand, Fenlon admitted victories are paramount with the campaign at the halfway stage.

He said: “It’s a difficult time when you are losing. Your confidence takes a bit of a beating, We have got to realise where we are in the league at the moment. Livelihoods depend on winning matches and we have got to take that on board quickly and turn it around.

“I think we have the fight and determination but we have to have a bit more quality as well and we have to start scoring goals. Nobody has cut us open, we have not conceded from open play.”