VAR (video assistant referee) may be creeping into the higher echelons of English football, but Tony Pulis still believes referees should be allowed to explain their decisions after the full-time whistle, writes Joe Nicholson.
The Middlesbrough manager was left disappointed at the consistency of official Geoff Eltringham following Boro’s 1-0 Championship defeat to Fulham at the Riverside on Saturday.
Eltringham awarded the visitors a last-minute penalty when Oliver Norwood went down under the slightest of challenges fromGrant Leadbitter, and the Fulham midfielder duly converted from the spot.
But Pulis was more upset about an earlier penalty decision which went against Boro striker Martin Braithwaite, which he thought was a “stone-waller”.
“The big thing with managers is we understand and recognise that referees are going to make mistakes, but when mistakes effect the football match then they should be called into question,” said Pulis.
“I’m not sure who is in charge of referees in the Championship but you’d love to ask the referee why he didn’t give that as a penalty.”
“It is a really disappointing decision. We understand and recognise referees will make mistakes but when they affect matches they should be called into question.
On Fulham’s penalty, he added: “The player falls before Grant touches him. The big thing in the game nowadays is when legs tend to buckle without any challenge being made, which is difficult for referees to get right.”
Pulis didn’t hide the fact that his team should have been out of sight by that stage, as Boro missed several good opportunities before being hit by the late sucker punch.
Rudy Gestede wasted a couple of gilt-edged chances before half-time, while Braithwaite missed the target from inside the area after the break.
Then, just seconds before the penalty was awarded, substitute Britt Assombalonga looped an effort onto the crossbar.
“I’m disappointed because I thought that we were the better team, especially in the first half when we had three or four chances and Fulham didn’t do anything to hurt us. We were the dominant force,” said Pulis.
“Our players missed chances that you’d expect them to put away, so it’s not all down to the referee.”
Encouragingly for Pulis, the side, which he only inherited on Boxing Day, is starting to take shape under his tutelage.
The Boro boss named an unchanged starting XI following Boro’s FA Cup victory over Sunderland, meaning top scorer Assombalonga started on the bench.
Boro saw less of the ball in the opening 45 minutes but looked comfortable and well organised out of possession.
In Adama Traore the hosts had a potent attacking outlet, which they tried to exploit at every opportunity.
Traore came face-to-face with highly-rated teenager Ryan Sessegnon on the flank, and the pair first locked horns in the eighth minute.
The Boro winger skipped past Sessegnon, who was deployed at left-back by manager Slavisa Jokanovic, but Fulham defender Tim Ream was on hand to avert the danger.
It was a sign of things to come and, with 25 minutes gone, Traore won the ball off Aboubakar Kamara inside the Boro half before brilliantly charging past three Fulham players, however his weary cross was blocked.
Boro should have taken the lead before that, though, after Gestede failed to capitalise on Norwood’s careless back pass.
The Benin international, who netted Boro’s opener against Sunderland, should have scored again five minutes before the interval when he was sent through on goal by Jonny Howson but dragged his effort wide.
Fulham improved after the break but were fortunate when defender Tomas Kalas, formally of Boro, appeared to pull down Braithwaite inside the area, however Eltringham waved play-on.
With 20 minutes to go, Braithwaite smashed a shot into the side-netting. Then, at the other end Sessegnon poked a tame close-range effort into the gloves of Darren Randolph.
A goalless draw looked on the cards until the late twist in stoppage time.
Pulis believed Norwood was already on his way down before Leadbitter made contact. Eltringham thought differently.
Boro defender Dani Ayala feels that there were positives for the Teessiders.
“We’re really disappointed to come away empty-handed but I think there are positives to take out of the game,” he said.
“I think we dominated the first half, we created many chances and if we’d taken them we would have won the game easily.
“You can see the disappointment in the dressing room, but we have to move on.”
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Leadbitter, Downing, Traore (Johnson 82), Gestede (Assombalonga 63), Braithwaite (Clayton 82). Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Bamford, Fletcher, Christie. Booked: Friend, Howson, Leadbitter, Clayton.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, R Sessegnon, Norwood, McDonald, Johansen, Ojo (Kalas 52), Kamara (Rui Fonte 58), Piazon (Kebano 85). Subs not used: Cairney, Button, Edun, S Sessegnon. Booked: Johansen, Fredericks, Odoi. Goal: Norwood 90 pen.
Att: 23,850. Ref: Geoff Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).