It would have been unsafe says Town v Watford referee

REFEREE Grant Hegley defended his decision to call off yesterday’s planned Ipswich Town Championship match against Watford at Portman Road 90 minutes before the scheduled kick-off.

And his firmness in halting proceedings to deny Blues fans their Bank Holiday football fare and Town players the chance to build on their 3-0 win over Leicester City on December 18 was applauded by Hornets manager Malky Mackay.

Hegley, who hails from Hertfordshire, arrived at the ground at 12.30pm and gave head groundsman Alan Ferguson and his team 45 minutes to work on the pitch before making his decision.

Most of the surface was in tip-top condition thanks to the covering tent that had been erected last Wednesday. Keys could be pressed an inch easily into the surface except for a zone around 10 metres in from the Cobbold Stand and from one 18-yard box to the other.

But unlike Stuart Attwell who kept the Leicester game going despite heavy snow fellow referee Hegley was adamant going ahead would have been dangerous.

“It was a great shame and full marks to the groundsman and his team,” said Hegley.

“But there were areas where it was very inconsistent and any player running at full tilt could have found himself in trouble and the players’ safety is of paramount importance.

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“One step they could have gained a good grip and the next they would have slid. Conditions in certain places were too inconsistent to allow the match to go ahead.

“The forecast for 3pm was for plus one temperature and at 5pm it was scheduled to drop down to minus one – so it was going to get more troublesome as the game went on.

“The ground staff put hot water and salt down and although the areas treated between 12.30pm and 1.15pm improved it was still unsafe to go ahead.”

Warm air was blown under the covers to keep the vast majority of the playing surface free of frost, but where the cover touched the ground on one side of the ground it had frosted over.

Town manager Roy Keane said: “It’s disappointing for everyone. I think the referee might have been a bit conscious of last week’s game and thought ‘Listen, I’m not going to start the game in case someone scores early’. It was a case of if in doubt perhaps.

“There were parts of the pitch frozen. It’s down to the referee whether he thinks the pitch is playable or not. He made the decision and we move on.”

Watford travelled from Vicarage Road during the morning and heard the news when they were five minutes from Portman Road.

Mackay, who spent some considerable time talking with his chief executive on the centre circle with his future likely to have been discussed with reports that Alan Pardew wants Mackay to join him at Newcastle United, walked the pitch along with his players.

He said: “We were a bit shocked as we had been in touch with Ipswich all week and expected the match to go ahead.

“With the help of their balloon, Ipswich have obviously worked hard and much of the pitch was okay.

“But in other places it was solid and with studs needed it would have been unsafe for players when they trod on the icy patches.

“We were ready and I wanted the game on, but I don’t think that the extra work done by the grounds staff had worked sufficiently.”

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