CONFUSION and contradictions flew around the Sports Direct Arena Press room yesterday over “Ref-gate” – the suggestion that Newcastle’s coaching staff had gone to see referee Mike Dean at half-time.
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill and his players understood that was exactly what had happened and that planted the seed of doubt in their minds about how the referee handled the second half.
But Newcastle were adamant that no such meeting had taken place and that, despite the Magpies goalkeeping coach, Andy Woodman, being sent off at half-time in the tunnel, no attempt was made to seek a meeting with the officials in their room.
Later in the day, highly-placed sources at Newcastle confirmed that referee Dean had not been confronted by backroom staff. But, at the same time, highly-placed sources at Sunderland were confirming that they certainly had.
O’Neill’s take on it was this: “We’re not party to what was said, but what I would say is that I think that Newcastle would consider themselves lucky to have 11 men still on the pitch by the final whistle.
“That probably wouldn’t have happened if the referee had continued to referee the game the way he’d started it.
“I thought there were a number of incidents in the game that might have been dealt with more harshly.
“Those incidents might be replayed ad nauseam, but it doesn’t really matter now, because they weren’t given.
“It’s unfair of me to make a judgment on what was said because I don’t know what was.
“But if the referee allows someone to come in to to talk to him, that’s his prerogative.”
O’Neill also felt that concerns over the half-time incident could directly have contributed to Lee Cattermole’s post-match outburst and red card.
“Lee was wrong to do what he did, but there might have been mitigating circumstances,” he said.
“I think he felt the referee didn’t finish the game the way he’d started – that a lot of fouls weren’t more harshly dealt with in the way they might have been in the first half.
“We’d heard some of their staff had visited the referee’s changing room at half-time and, while we’re not party to what was said, there was a feeling that a lot of decisions went Newcastle’s way in the second half and they could consider themselves lucky to have 11 men still on the pitch by the end of it.”
Alan Pardew, though, utterly rejected the claims being made by the Sunderland camp.
“We didn’t have a deputation going to see the referee at half-time. That’s completely untrue,” said the Newcastle boss.
“I heard that rumour and it’s not right.”