Paul Heckingbottom has accused referee Steven McLean of making a foolish error of judgment in phoning Rangers boss Steven Gerrard to apologise for missing a foul in the build-up to Hibs’ equaliser against the Ibrox club last Friday.
Gerrard had claimed Easter Road midfielder Stephane Omeonga was guilty of an illegal challenge on Rangers skipper James Tavernier, initiating a sweeping move by the Capital outfit which resulted in Flo Kamberi cancelling out Daniel Candeias’ opener.
The 1-1 draw left Gerrard’s side trailing Old Firm rivals Celtic by eight points as the Premiership champions close in on an eighth successive title.
But, it later emerged, McLean made contact with Gerrard to say sorry for his mistake, a move which the Hibs head coach admitted had left him baffled, suggesting the whistler should instead have had a quiet word the next time the pair met.
Joking that he hadn’t been in Scotland long enough for referees to have his number, the former Barnsley and Leeds United boss revealed he’d never had such an apology and that he wouldn’t expect such a call in future.
Insisting it should simply be accepted that match officials do make mistakes in every game, Heckingbottom said: “He shouldn’t be doing it. It was foolish. Was I surprised? Yeah, really surprised. I think it was an error of judgment.
“I don’t know what the leadership is and what the guidelines are but it’s not going to help. I can guarantee that, 100 per cent.
“Why was it that specific decision? What about every other decision they get wrong? They’re going to get them wrong and that’s my point.
“It’s just another highlight being put on referees for the wrong reasons. Referees try their best, they work hard, they are honest, they are going to make mistakes. Get on with it.
“But what they have to do is get stronger guidelines and better direction in how they handle those things. How they handle match days, how they handle decision-making and, certainly, not being influenced by what is being said about them or each other.
“It was a really bad decision.”
And Heckingbottom believes McLean has made a rod for his own back, leaving himself open to having future decisions he makes being questioned, adamant he just can’t understand why the referee chose the particular course of action he took.
He said: “That’s another thing that’s going to be thrown at them now. I cannot believe he has done it, for lots of reasons.
“Where does it stop? Because I guarantee you there will be another 20 or 30 wrong and probably another 100 decisions in every game which are contentious.
“Is it just the fact a goal came from that one? What about the goals that could have come from other ones?
“It’s crazy. Yeah, they need to look at that and they need to be really strong about it.
“Listen, if it was a quiet word on the day when you bump into each other in the corridor and he said: ‘Steven I got that one wrong’, we all make mistakes.
“But to phone someone up? I can’t get my head around it. It is one little moment in the game. People say they even themselves out, and yeah, they might.
“But if that’s what you’re going to do you’d spend 90 days talking about a 90-minute game for all the little decisions that get given.”