Grant Holt has claimed Hibs’ narrow defeat to Danish outfit Brondby won’t go down as Juan Martinez Munuera’s finest hour, insisting the Spanish referee was guilty of a string of howlers.
Munuera, who is regularly in charge of La Liga matches featuring the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and his assistant Migeul Martinez so incensed Neil Lennon that the Easter Road boss was banished to the stand.
It was Lennon’s angry reaction to what he saw as a “brilliant goal” from Jason Cummings being flagged offside which resulted in him being banished from the home dug-out but, striker Holt insisted, there were other incidents in which Hibs suffered rough justice at the hands of the whistler.
While almost everyone inside Easter Road was convinced Cummings had cancelled out Kamil Wilczek’s 16th-second opener for the Danes, rounding off a superb build-up play from team-mates John McGinn and Martin Boyle, the assistant, accused of Lennon of not keeping up with play, thought otherwise.
And later in the game Holt himself was left fuming, convinced he’d been clipped inside the penalty area after a gilt-edged scoring opportunity opened up for him. However, Munuera simply waved his claims away.
Holt said: “I think he has to make a decision either way. If he doesn’t think it’s a penalty he’s got to come over and do me for simulation. As I said to him I had no reason to go down. I’ve got the ball past him [Brondby substitute Andrew Hjulsager] I’m on it to go and shoot so there’s no reason.
“It’s a tough job refereeing but I think we were harshly done by. I don’t Jason was offside, I was just behind him. Moments turn games.”
Cummings’ disallowed goal and Holt’s own penalty claim were the big talking points for Hibs fans afterwards, but the veteran hitman highlighted other incidents in which, he felt, the Danes enjoyed more than a touch of luck.
He said: “It’s tough job being an official, they don’t always get it right – but I thought there were a few times when they didn’t.”
Brondby midfielder Rodolph Austin, having been booked after scything down Lewis Stevenson, got away with an hand ball which, in Holt’s estimation “many a referee would have sent him off”, Brondby boss Alexander Zorniger clearly aware of the tightrope his player was walking by replacing him before half-time.
And, in Holt’s opinion, that wasn’t they only red card call which Munuera, who booked 11 players and sent two off in a Copa Del Rey match between Barcelona and Espanyol last season, got wrong.
He said: “I don’t think it was any coincidence Austin was subbed off. Then the left back [Patrick da Silva] has gone through the back of Martin Boyle having already been booked.”
Having got all that off his chest, Holt then claimed that while “some decisions weren’t great”, he and his team-mates couldn’t simply blame Munuera while insisting that although Hibs face a tough match in Copenhagen on Thursday, the tie is far from dead.
The former Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Norwich City and Wigan star believes that having played their first competitive match, Lennon’s players will be in even better shape for the return leg.
He said: “I think anyone watching the game saw it was a decent game, end-to-end. They had a couple of chances towards the end because we were trying to chase it and get the result we wanted.
“We were disappointed, but I think we can take massive heart into next week. It’s another pre-season week for us, it gives us a chance to work on certain stuff, to get fitness in and keep getting better.
“We’ve done well so far, we’ve had a couple of games and I think you could see how fit we are as a group, we kept going and going into the 90th minute and I think we’ll be the better for it.
“I think we surprised them as to how good we were at times. We didn’t dominate the whole game, they had spells when they kept the ball and moved it. They are a good side but I thought at times with a little bit more quality we’d have broken them down and got the chance. But everything just seemed to drop the other side, crosses were coming in and hitting people on the back of the head.
“Next week we’ll play in a similar way. We created chances, we moved the ball and although it took us a while to get to their dieamond, the way we were moving it I think we played alright. We’ll go out and try to win the game, that’s all we can do.”
I think we’ve got a good group, a good balance. You could see with the rotation in the few games we’ve had that we’ve got a fantastic group. It’s about getting what the manager is putting across in the next few weeks an finding out what each other does and we’ll work on that.”
The biggest moment in a game packed with incident was, of course, Finnish goalkeeper Otso Virtanen spilling Martin Albrechsten’s low shot allowing Wilczek to fire the ball into the roof of the net. But, Holt insisted, no-one was pointing the finger at the 22-year-old, who will never forget his first start for Hibs.
He said: “He didn’t have to say anything. We’ve all made mistakes, I’ve made plenty. It’s part and parcel of football. We don’t hold anyone accountable, next week or the week after I’ll put one over the bar from a yard and it will be all my fault.
“It happened. Otso dealt with it well, he didn’t go under and as a team we didn’t go under.”