The Verdict – Referee the target as sending-off costs Huddersfield Town dearly against Brighton

No penalty: Huddersfield Town's Alex Pritchard is hauled to the ground but fails to win a spot-kick.
No penalty: Huddersfield Town's Alex Pritchard is hauled to the ground but fails to win a spot-kick.
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IT is traditional at this time of year for people to start to think of others and pass on festive wishes to those they hold in fond regard by way of a Christmas greeting or two.

Rest assured that after Saturday’s disputatious events, referee Michael Oliver will not be the recipient of such goodwill from those with Huddersfield Town firmly in their hearts.

Famously, Brighton chief Chris Hughton – a more civil and respected manager on the circuit you would struggle to find – had a face that resembled thunder after his side’s 3-1 defeat to Town when the pair were pushing for promotion in February, 2017, with the visiting dressing room at the John Smith’s Stadium not a place to be, by all accounts.

On this latest meeting between these clubs, the fury was visibly displayed by counterpart David Wagner, but it was nothing to do with the display of his side.

Wagner, whose positivity and smile has lit up many a room since his arrival in Huddersfield, struggled to conceal his anger towards Oliver following his decision to dismiss Steve Mounie for a high tackle on Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma on 32 minutes – and not send off Brighton substitute Leon Balogun for a similarly controversial challenge on Erik Drum late on.

The Town head coach was ashen-faced in his post-match press utterances. Football is not fun on afternoon’s like this, he said, and the German had a point.

I do not like to speak about the referees, but I think he played a big role in this defeat.

Laurent Depoitre

Never mind Tyson Fury, this was Wagner fury.

A vat of salt was rubbed into wounds by, in his opinion, Town also not being awarded a first-half penalty for a spot of man-handling in the area by Brighton’s Pascal Gross on Alex Pritchard. It never rains, but pours.

But it was the Mounie red on 32 minutes which proved the most bitter development.

What can be in no doubt is that his challenge on Bissouma smacked of poor technique and was high.

Equally, it was in no way malicious, with the Town man not ‘following through’ on the Albion schemer, who showed no ill-effects from the tackle despite a fair bit of attention and was to prove a dominant on-pitch force, particularly on the resumption.

In close attendance to the first-half flashpoint, Oliver was quick to give Mounie his marching orders, but ultimately left himself open to the charge of grave inconsistency after only issuing a late caution to Balogun after a challenge on Durm that was nasty and laden with intent in comparison.

Oliver was the subject of a torrent of vitriol at the final whistle, but, unfortunately, it was background noise. The damage had been done in a game which Town entered into with high hopes of taking something from; if not winning.

On Town’s sense of injustice, particularly at Mounie’s dismissal, substitute Laurent Depoitre said: “I think if it is a red card, it is a red card for them as well, so that is the problem.

“It (Mounie sending off) changes the game completely. I also think it was a clear penalty on Pritchard. It could have been 2-0 and the game would have been completely different.

“I do not like to speak about the referees, but I think he played a big role in this defeat.

“They (Brighton) were not very dangerous and then there were a few decisions from the referee that we do not really understand.”

All this on an afternoon which started off so well for Town and provided a spot of history.

Just 54 seconds had elapsed when Mathias Zanka emphatically powered home a header for the fastest goal of the Premier League season with fans having barely settled into their seats.

It owned plenty to the slapdash defending of Brighton stalwart Bruno, whose wretched skewed clearance arrowed towards his own goal, with Zanka displaying purpose and physicality to beat Albion goalkeeper Matt Ryan to the ball and register his first strike on home soil.

It was the prelude to a ropey defensive showing from Brighton early on, but they were offered encouragement at the other end.

Shane Duffy saw his point-blank header kept out by Jonas Lossl, with Jonathan Hogg’s follow-up block to get in the way of Florin Andone’s rebound preventing a certain leveller.

Then came Mounie’s game-changer, although Town initially refused to be cowed and roared defiance before more controversy when a point-blank header from Terence Kongolo was blocked on the line by Andone, with Oliver unmoved when Pritchard went down in the area after close attention from Gross.

Ryan made a scrambling save to keep out Aaron Mooy’s free-kick before Duffy’s leveller following a penetrating cross from Solly March applied the sting and Town were never quite the same.

Worn down by Albion pressure on the restart, the hosts succumbed when a sharp header from Andone – his first goal in English football – flew in after another quality assist from March.

The home fans’ mood towards Oliver was increasingly febrile, only reinforced when Balogun escaped a late red. One of those days, all right.