Sunderland AFC verdict: Our writers on decision to abandon Accrington Stanley clash - and whether game should have started

The decision to abandon Sunderland's League One game at Accrington Stanley with just 17 minutes left to play sparked huge debate.

Sunday, 9th December 2018, 1:08 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th December 2018, 1:15 pm
Sunderland's game was abandoned after 73 minutes.

Referee Oliver Langford called the players off the pitch with 73 minutes on the clock at the Wham Stadium.

Heavy, almost torrential rain in the second half, had made a sodden pitch potentially dangerous.

The pre-match scene at the Wham Stadium.

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The game is expected to be replayed in the new year, with another fixture added to an already congested schedule given Sunderland’s progress in the Checkatrade Trophy and FA Cup.

But should the League One game have gone ahead in the first place?

Our Sunderland AFC writers Phil Smith and Richard Mennear give their verdicts on that and the decision to abandon.

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First things first, it was absolutely the correct decision to abandon the game midway through the second half.

The pitch, which was already heavy and sodden prior to kick-off, was becoming dangerous for the players.

It would have risked injury to have carried on and as both managers pointed out, the game had almost descended into farce.

The ball wasn’t bouncing or running properly, it was a lottery as to how it would bounce, that much clear when Jack Baldwin and then the rest of the Sunderland defence failed to clear before sub Connor Hall’s equaliser.

Langford, who allowed the game to flow well, made the right call in abandoning it.

But he made the wrong call in allowing it to start in the first place.

It was a big day for the hosts, a record crowd helped by Sunderland’s huge 2,600-strong away following spread over two stands.

Heavy rain in the days leading up to the game was followed by further heavy rain in the two hours before kick-off.

A large section down the wings in front of the main stand resembled a farmers’ field, ground staff clearing the wet mud from the surface. Langford had looked at the pitch at 10.30am and it was fine, further rain then fell, he twice looked at it before kick-off and was clearly concerned.

A message came through that while it was fine at 1.45pm another heavy downpour would likely see it off.

By his own admission it was “touch and go at the start”. In fairness, by 3pm the rain had stopped but more was forecast, a quick glimpse at the weather forecast told you that.

While it was fine to start, there was always a danger the game couldn’t have been completed. And so it proved.

It would have been an unpopular decision to call it off before KO but arguably it would have been the right one, although it was a difficult set of circumstances for the official.

The scores were level when the game was abandoned, Sunderland will hope when they meet again the weather doesn’t prove a factor in their promotion hopes.

The first thing to say is Oliver Langford showed his quality as a referee during what was a difficult game to manage.

The conditions called for sensible officiating and he delivered.

It has been interesting to see how big a difference it has made having Championship referees in charge of Sunderland’s last two matches.

Like Andrew Madley in the Barnsley game, Langford just seemed to take that necessary extra moment to reach a decision and managed the flow of the game well.

More of the same, please.

Of course, the big talking point was whether he managed the biggest decision of all on a surreal afternoon correctly.

At 73 minutes, the right call was made.

Langford had the support of both managers and the there two critical risks that had to be avoided.

One was injury.

The ball had become too unpredictable and so the danger was obvious.

Secondly, both teams are playing for high stakes in this division and were at risk of dropping points to something completely out of their control.

The bigger question is arguably whether the game should have started at all.

The pitch was clearly borderline even by 1.30, the word being that another heavy downpour would put an end to the game.

The forecast suggested that was an inevitability.

Perhaps, then, the sound call would have been to call a halt to it then but that is easier said than done when a record attendance have already started making their way through the gates.

Langford did a good job and you suspect Sunderland would be more than happy to have him in charge of a game again.