Joe Mbu was as mystified as the majority of the 1090 crowd inside Meadowbank after he was shown a controversial straight red card during Edinburgh City’s Pyramid Play-Off final 1-1 first leg draw with East Stirlingshire on Saturday.
Dougie Gair’s penalty and Maxwell Wright’s scrambled equaliser means both sides still have it all to play for in this weekend’s second leg at Ochilview. The League Two outfit will be without Reece Donaldson after he was also sent off in stoppage time.
Mbu was adamant referee Gavin Duncan got the big decision wrong after a clash with David McKenna.
“From a referee being 35 yards away and a guy coming in to block the ball and landing on my feet – I want to see the video,” he said. “There’s no way he can say I’ve booted the guy from there. I’m too long in the tooth for any of that nonsense. He took his time – he’s gone to his top pocket then his back pocket and it’s because McKenna’s jumped up saying ‘he’s kicked me, he’s kicked me!’ There was nothing in it at all. I’m stunned he’s pulled out a red from being 35 yards away – it’s a ridiculous decision. I’m mystified by it and I’ll be devastated if I miss the game next week.
“It’s frustrating because we were so comfortable and dealt with everything they had. The goal we lost was terrible from our side. We know we can do better.”
Whether he’s suspended for Saturday or not, Mbu believes his team-mates can win promotion. “The boys in that changing room have always got a chance,” he said. “They’re lions – their heart is unbelievable. I’ve never doubted them and they have a great opportunity now.”
City were awarded their penalty when Kris Faulds stumbled under pressure when trying to clear John MacDonald’s cross, handling the ball in the process. Gair stepped up and tucked the spot-kick low to Darren Dolan’s left.
It took a wonderful fingertip save from Dolan to stop Ross Allum scoring in spectacular fashion on the half hour. City’s top scorer created space for himself before arrowing a vicious left foot strike towards the top corner that Dolan just managed to tip on to the bar.
Against the run of play, East Stirlingshire levelled four minutes before half-time. A low delivery across the six yard box wasn’t dealt with by City, and Wright slid home the loose ball despite Chris McKee’s efforts to clear off the line.
It was a more cagey affair after the teams emerged for the second 45, Allum seeing a close-range snap shot blocked by Dolan at the near post just after the hour before a well struck indirect free-kick from Wright was well held by home keeper Gregor Amos.
The big talking point came with just over 15 to go. Mbu calmly played a bouncing ball over McKenna’s head, who appeared to fall in to the City defender before reacting theatrically. The expectation of most within Meadowbank was that referee Duncan would tell him to get up, rather than bafflingly ordering Mbu off to City’s fury.
He did level up the numbers in stoppage time, this time former Raith Rovers man Reece Donaldson shown a straight red for going in straight-legged on Shaun Harrison after the City sub had knocked the ball past him.
City manager Gary Jardine later confirmed that the club will appeal the decision, but wouldn’t be drawn on his own view of Mbu’s dismissal. “I don’t really care,” he replied when asked if the ref had explained the decision. “It’s happened and we get on with it. It’s been said Joe kicked out but it’s done and I can only control the controllable and that’s exactly what we’ll do looking forward to next week. We did okay in the first half. These ties are very nervy. Both teams have had a look at each other now and I think we’ll see a cracking game next week.”
Edinburgh City: Amos, Dunsmore (Gibson 82), G Donaldson, McConnell, Paterson, McKee, Mbu, Gair, Allum (Harrison 78), Dunn (Guthrie 49), MacDonald.
East Stirlingshire: Dolan, Kinnaird, R Donaldson, Townsley, McMullin, Fisher, Faulds, McCabe, Orr (McKenna 72), Kay (Lynas 58), Wright.