WITH no television studio pundits to use slow-motion or dozens of camera angles to dissect it, Lee Probert’s decision to give Swansea a penalty at Victoria Park will go down as just another bizarre refereeing decision.
But it was a lot more than that. The Wiltshire official’s whistle changed a game in a split-second, probably decided the League One title race and finished Hartlepool’s faint play-off hopes. And it was wrong.
Ben Clark’s challenge on Jason Scotland was probably robust, but it was fair. It won the ball cleanly and there were no wild appeals from Swansea players as the Pool defender began to stride out of the box with the ball at his feet.
But Clark, his team-mates, manager Danny Wilson, most of the crowd and, if the truth is told, a few Swansea players were surprised when he was stopped in his tracks by the whistle.
“The referee has got to stand up and accept he has made an awful decision,” said Wilson. “Ben won the ball fair and square.”
The decision came in first-half added time as on-form Pool prepared to go in for the break level after facing 45 minutes of driving wind and rain. Instead, they went in a goal behind.
Wilson added: “It was cruel on our players. By rights, we should have been looking forward to the second half with the wind behind us and a chance to put them under pressure. But instead, the decision knocked the stuffing out of us. It was the turning point.
“There are games during a season when you have to admit you lost because the other team was better. This was not one of them. The lads were magnificent and even deserve praise for not chasing the ref all over the pitch when he made the decision. He gave them a mountain to climb, but they couldn’t quite make it.” A game that started full of hope for Pool – when Gary Liddle scrambled a goal on 28 seconds after James’s Brown’s shot was parried by keeper Dorus De Vries – ended in frustration.
Not only did they lose when they deserved a result, but Liddle was stretchered off with a deep laceration to his thigh that needed hospital treatment and Brown limped off with a badly-bruised knee. Liddle’s injury came when he and keeper Arran Lee-Barrett collided as they tried to stop Darren Pratley from scoring Swansea’s breakaway third on 72 minutes.
Pratley had equalised for the Welshmen on 23 minutes, and Scotland’s spot kick gave them an undeserved lead on half-time.
For the record, Swansea boss Roberto Martinez thought the penalty was a good decision. That makes two people in the ground who got it wrong.
HARTLEPOOL: Lee-Barrett, McCunnie, Nelson, Clark, Humphreys (Foley 76), Sweeney, Liddle (Boland 76), Monkhouse, Brown (Mackay 56), Porter, Robson. Subs (not used): Budtz, Antwi.
Goal: Liddle 1.
SWANSEA: De Vries, Rangel, Tate, Lawrence, Austin, Butler (Tudur-Jones 67), Britton (Way 90), Pratley, Robinson, Scotland, Duffy. Subs (not used): Knight, Bauza, Williams.
Booked: Rangel, Pratley.
Goals: Pratley 23, Scotland 45 pen, Pratley 73.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)