Referee's blunder overshadows game

Millwall 0 Ipswich Town 0HOW sad it is that once again it is the referee who provides the main talking point and not the football.

Millwall 0

Ipswich Town 0

HOW sad it is that once again it is the referee who provides the main talking point and not the football, writes Derek Davis.

While we would all love to be able to just shrug our shoulders, accept the officials' decisions and just get on with it, mistakes likes the ones Iain Williamson made at the hostile New Den change games.

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It was not just the controversial red card given to Georges Santos, or his decision to give a yellow instead of a red to Millwall keeper Tony Warner for handling the ball outside the area, (an offence, if committed, not seen by the linesman a mere 10 yards away) which upset the Blues.

It was the way he capitulated under the pressure of Millwall players and supporters.

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Yes, he booked four Millwall players, but too often Williamson showed naivety in seeing challenges.

There was nothing wrong in Santos' first yellow card after just seven minutes when he brought down the tricky Peter Sweeney.

But the second yellow, at the behest of the howling Millwall mob, was farcical.

Kevin Braniff had beaten the Frenchman to the ball just inside the Town half and Santos knew he could not make a tackle so stood tall, arms raised and Braniff ran into him and made a meal of going down.

A foul for obstruction? Probably. A bookable offence? Not necessarily. Worthy of a sending off? Definitely not. This was an occasion where a word would have done and still stay within the laws of the game.

Ipswich will look at that as the reason they had to hang on so desperately with Chris Bart-Williams stepping back into defence leaving the midfield out-numbered.

Without the legs of Shefki Kuqi and Ian Westlake who had been substituted, Town found themselves under siege for the remaining 40 minutes.

Only outstanding defensive work by John McGreal and Matt Richards, coupled with a goal-line clearance from Fabian Wilnis with seconds remaining, and some terrific goalkeeping by Kelvin Davis kept Ipswich from losing.

By the end it was a point gained rather than two lost at a ground where the hosts have not conceded a goal in five games going back to October, and this was their third successive scoreless draw.

But it all started so differently for Ipswich who had previously gone 19 games without failing to score.

Darren Bent might have beaten the 26 seconds it took to score against Derby last time out but instead blazed a shot wide when unmarked inside the 18- yard box.

Shefki Kuqi was guilty of a glaring miss when the goal was unguarded following a mistake by Tony Warner who spilled a low cross.

John McGreal flashed a header wide and Jermaine Wright was not far away against his old club.

But those early scorned chances were to prove costly as player-manager Dennis Wise was given a rare outing replacing Ivory Coast Under-21 Aboubaka Fofana who was struggling with a slight hamstring pull.

The introduction of Wise added steel to the Lions' midfield and Ipswich rarely troubled Millwall after that with Warner not having a shot to deal with.

Wise cajoled his own players to step up their efforts and space became a premium as Jermaine Wright started to be snuffed out.

Wright had oozed class early on with imaginative passing, space-creating little runs and generally mopping up well against his first club.

Millwall switched Sweeney over to the left while Wise bossed the right but the Lions have shown they are toothless up front.

Peter Sweeney hit a post with a 25-yard shot after cutting in from the left wing while Tim Cahill went close to nabbing his 50th Millwall goal but volleyed over from eight yards.

Braniff hooked a shot into Davis' arms and hit another wide across goal.

After the sending off it was virtually all Millwall although the pace of Bent and Pablo Counago's clever running caused the south Londoners some problems.

Warner was under pressure by the Spaniard when he grabbed hold of the ball but his momentum took him well outside the area where he spilled the ball.

The referee gave a free kick but decided against what was believed to be a mandatory red for handling outside the area.

He also booked Cahill for diving but there was a moment when the Town travellers worried he would give a penalty, such was his inconsistency.

Only the intervention of the fourth official, at Joe Royle's insistence, prevented Counago going into the book, or worse, after Wise theatrically dived over a challenge by the Spaniard in a similar way that had got Matt Richards booked in the first half.

Wise is a wily old pro, as cunning as a fox never mind a lion, and he used every bit of his reputation and

experience to gain that extra edge.

Unfortunately the referee fell for it and that is why we are talking about him and not more about Ipswich who have now lost just once in 13 games and remain firmly in the promotion hunt.

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