Police chief defends officers over pitch invasion at Leeds match

A POLICE chief has defended his force after the Leeds United manager said officers failed to protect his players during a pitch invasion.

What Leeds boss Simon Grayson said

Carlisle United fans ran on the pitch at Brunton Park last night after their side beat Leeds United in a penalty shoot-out to book their place in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

After the match, Leeds boss Simon Grayson claimed three of his players had been punched on the pitch.

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He criticised Cumbria police, who arrested 10 fans during the disturbance, saying: "The police have done nothing about getting our players off quicker or protecting them. The stewards have done nothing about it and that's a serious issue for me. I'll be taking this further with people involved at a higher level. I'm going to make my feelings well and truly known to the people that matter."

Chief Inspector Mark Pannone, who led the policing operation at the match, said the situation was dealt with "swiftly and robustly". He said: "We are disappointed by Mr Grayson's comments. The policing and the stewarding of the match was conducted in a restrained and professional manner.

"The job of the police is to support the stewards, to prevent disorder and respond to incidents as they occur, which is exactly what we did.

As soon as the pitch invasion commenced we began working with the stewards to clear the pitch and protect the away fans."

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He said the force has not received a formal complaint from Leeds, but the Yorkshire club is expected to make one.

Carlisle United's managing director John Nixon said the situation was dealt with "in text-book fashion" and that stewards and police officers worked together to bring the pitch invasion under control "as quickly as possible". But Leeds United chief executive Shaun Harvey said he will speak to the Cumbria club and police force to "supplement" the evidence he already has.

In a statement on the club's website, Mr Harvey said: "It is our current intention to make a formal complaint to the football authorities about the apparent lack of security arrangements in relation to the safety of our players at Carlisle."

The game went to penalties after Leeds won the game 3-2, taking them level on aggregate. Leeds player Shane Lowry's crucial miss sent Carlisle through with a 6-5 win. Carlisle will face Southampton in the final at Wembley on March 28.