Lee Johnson blasts key referee decision in verdict on Sunderland's 'devastating' play-off defeat
Lee Johnson bemoaned poor set-piece defending and key refereeing decision as Sunderland were knocked out of the play-offs on Saturday afternoon.
A superb first-half display saw Sunderland restore parity in the semi-final, with Ross Stewart and Charlie Wyke vindicating their manager’s decision to field an ultra-attacking line up.
Sunderland felt they should have had a penalty when Stewart appeared to be brought down by Alex Palmer just before the break, but the referee waved play on.
Lincoln regrouped at the break and moved back into the lead when Tom Hopper scored from a corner.
Regan Poole had hit the bar with another set-piece effort moments before.
Johnson hailed the ‘top drawer’ Sunderland support and said the end result was ‘devastating’.
“It's devastating,” he said.
“There's no other word for it. Everyone is devastated.
“You could see we put everything into it. I thought the fans were magnificent, it was my first taste of Sunderland support and it was absolutely top, top drawer.
“The positive is that that is the sign of things to come, and the tempo we can create for the 23 home games next season.
“I think we should have had a penalty when Ross Stewart was brought down, and I think at that pointif we go 3-0 up, it gives us a chance to rest a bit in possession.
“When they had their spell in the second half, the effort we put in the first half told.
“We came good again when we made the subs, but we just couldn't find that elusive goal.
“The disappointing thing is that we've been done by a set play, that's the bit that massively bugs me,” he added.
“We do a lot of set play work and we'd had our warning sign when they hit the woodwork. We failed to do our job there.
“We had some great chances, and I know they had some as well.
“I think we put a lot of effort in, you could see that boys were hanging in towards the end.
“We had a lot of players out of position as well. We've probably had about 40 things happen to our defenders over the season, injuries, illnesses, and that takes its toll.
“We did OK at the back today but we've ended up with Max Power at right back and Lynden Gooch at left back.”
Johnson conceded that a poor second goal conceded at the LNER Stadium on Wednesday night proved to be crucial, but also said that he felt that key penalty decision was crucial.
He said that VAR should be implemented in the play-offs, given the stakes at play.
“That's [second goal] the damage, and the referee not giving us a penalty,” he said.
“They have been absolutely horrendous this year and I can't wait to get hold of the referee's association in the summer, so I can present all the bad ones we've had.
“We've tried to stay quiet on it but when people's livelihoods are on the line, it's so frustrating.
“They should have VAR in the play-offs.”